Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for an EU summit in
Brussels on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. European Union leaders
are meeting without Britain for the first time since the
British referendum to rethink their bloc and keep it from
disintegrating after Britain’s unprecedented vote to
BRUSSELS — EU
leaders met Wednesday without Britain for the first time to
rethink their shaken union, make it more relevant to citizens and
keep it from disintegrating after Britain's unprecedented vote to
leave — but conflicting visions of Europe's future are
complicating the high-stakes summit.
Minister David Cameron left Brussels on Tuesday night without any
clear divorce plan, fending off pressure for a quick exit and
punting the complex departure negotiations to his successor.
nominations opened Wednesday for a new Conservative leader to
replace him after his devastating political miscalculation in
calling last week's referendum.
fate in Europe uncertain, the 27 remaining presidents, chancellors
and prime ministers meeting in Brussels are focusing Wednesday on
what to do about the rest of the continent. There's a widespread
sense that the post-war project to foster peace via trade has
become a bureaucratic, undemocratic behemoth with little meaning
for its 500 million citizens.
"We all need
to wake up and smell the coffee," Lithuanian President Dalia
"We have to
show that Europe brings a real added value that can be felt by our
fellow citizens," Belgian's Prime Minister Charles Michel
They all seem to
agree that something must change after frustrations built up to
the point that Britain quit, but disagree about how. The initial
EU founding nations in the west lean toward a tighter, closer
union while newer nations in the east want to keep more control
with national governments — notably of their borders.
countries are now facing calls, especially from the nationalist
far right, for referendums on quitting the bloc. Popular French
far-right leader Marine Le Pen pressed unpopular President
Francois Hollande in a weekend meeting for such a vote in France,
but his government has rejected the idea.
The 27 remaining
EU members are especially divided over how to deal with migration,
a major issue in Britain's vote last week. Central European
nations led by Hungary refuse to accept imposed EU refugee quotas,
and countries further north have all tightened border controls in
response to the arrival of more than 1 million migrants last year.
Britain is more
concerned about EU immigration, since its strong economy draws
hundreds of thousands of workers from other EU nations.
departure will also shift the balance of power within the EU,
handing more weight to Germany's Merkel and emboldening eastern
countries such as Poland that want a greater voice in the EU. The
bloc depends on consensus, so has long relied on trade-offs and
compromise between countries with very different approaches to
what they want out of Europe.
The shock British
vote has roiled markets and had impact on Europe and beyond, and
overshadowed all the discussions Wednesday in Brussels, because it
will rob the EU of its richest financial market, biggest military
power and a diplomatic giant.
It could also
prompt an unraveling of the UK.
Minister Nicola Sturgeon met Wednesday in Brussels with European
Parliament President Martin Schulz and is meeting later with the
leader of the EU executive, Commission President Jean-Claude
Juncker. Scottish voters overwhelmingly chose to remain in the
European Union but were drowned out by English voters. Sturgeon
has indicated there may be a new referendum on Scottish
"It was a
good opportunity for me to set out Scotland's position and
Scotland's desire to remain within the European Union and to
protect our relationship with the European Union," Sturgeon
said after meeting Schulz, but added, "I don't underestimate
the challenges that lie ahead for us seeking to find a path."
Britain's turmoil, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said,
"With a disunited United Kingdom, we need a united Europe
more than ever."
nominations opened Wednesday to replace Cameron as leader of the
Conservative Party, with Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb
the first official contender. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson
and Home Secretary Theresa May are also expected to run.
night's summit dinner, EU leaders rejected Cameron's pleas for
favorable conditions for Britain once it leaves, insisting there
would be no cherry-picking of advantageous trade conditions
without respecting the free movement of people.
suggestions that Cameron's successor might not start the formal EU
withdrawal process because of the financial turmoil prompted by
the vote and wide confusion about how to extract a country from
"I see no
way to reverse it," Merkel said. She said this is not the
time for "wishful thinking."