EU must do more to meet citizens' concerns, urge MEPs in debate on Brexit summit 

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Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and EU Council President Donald Tusk discussed Brexit and summit issues with MEPs © EU 2016 - EP  

EU leaders must respond to the UK's vote to leave the EU, by doing more to defend the EU project and to make it more transparent, social and responsive to citizens' concerns. This was a key message that came out of Parliament's Tuesday morning debate with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, on last week's EU summit.

To view the full statements by individual speakers, click on the names.

European Council President Donald TUSK began by underlining that EU leaders had dealt with a series of issues not linked to future UK-EU relations: “The UK referendum does not relieve the EU of the migration crisis”, he said. Mr Tusk described the discussion on Brexit as “calm and measured.” EU leaders understood UK Prime minister Cameron’s decision to postpone the triggering of withdrawal negotiations, but nevertheless expect the new UK government to submit a formal notification as soon as possible and that “no negotiations of any kind” will happen before this notification, he said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude JUNCKER criticized the "Brexit" campaigners: "They are "retro-nationalists, not patriots", he said, adding that "a patriot would not leave the boat when the situation becomes difficult” and that "they had no plan on where to go on from here.” He insisted that the “European Union” needs to become the “Union of Europeans” and that reforms should be accelerated and decisions implemented.

EPP group leader Manfred WEBER (DE) said that after the Brexit vote, the 27 member states should not allow themselves to become hostages to the political chaos in London. He noted that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage had "jumped ship" when it got tough and called this behaviour "cowardly".  He called for a new political culture of responsibility and "mythbusting" on Europe, as the EU benefits the people, is not undemocratic and can deliver. Blaming the EU for the Brexit now is "madness", Mr Weber concluded.

S&D group leader Gianni PITTELLA (IT) praised the European Council for “resisting blackmail” and stressing that if a country wants to access the single market, it will have also to accept people's freedom of movement. But he also criticised EU leaders for lacking the ambition to re-launch the European integration process. "This delay is not proof of EU weakness, but of the failure of the intergovernmental approach: we stand by Mr Juncker’s efforts to defend the community method!"

ECR group leader Syed KAMALL (UK) said that the referendum result was a “wakeup call” for the EU. He warned against continuing as usual or putting too much pressure on the UK. EU leaders should instead use the current situation as an opportunity to reconnect with people, make the EU more transparent and focus on the citizens’ legitimate concerns, such as creating growth and jobs, he concluded.

"The rats are fleeing the sinking ship”, said Guy VERHOFSTADT (ALDE, BE). Describing the Brexit vote as an "earthquake", he called on the EU Council to “stop sleepwalking to a disaster: a loose federation of states that cannot work. Either the EU will change, or it will die. The Council needs to recognize that citizens are not against Europe, but against THIS Europe”, he said, noting that in the latest Eurobarometer poll, citizens had called for more EU action, not less.”

To GUE/NGL leader Gabriele ZIMMER (DE) the Council conclusions were "scandalous": yet another "phase of reflection", as prescribed by EU heads of state or goverment, would further undermine citizens' trust, since they have not even specified "something concrete to reflect on.”  She criticised Mr Juncker, for “trying to prevent national parliaments from voting on the CETA deal” and called for an “emergency humanitarian” programme for crisis victims in the EU.

Green group leader Rebecca HARMS (DE) criticised populists and nationalists who use ordinary citizens for their own purposes and lead them to vote against their own interests: “I can only despise the Farages, Le Pens and von Storchs of this world, who set ordinary people against each other”, she said. She added that the remaining 27 EU countries should keep a door open to the UK and to the people and regions wishing to remain in the EU.

Paul NUTTALL (EFDD, UK) said that the EU and the UK should conduct talks “in a grown-up manner”, to get the best deal for everyone and to become good trading partners. Otherwise, also French farmers and German carmakers would suffer, he pointed out, referring to the UK's current trade deficit with EU.

Marine LE PEN (ENF, FR) also called for a fair trade deal and accused the "Europeanists" of not respecting the people's will. Rather than more integration, the peoples want their sovereignty and to cooperate freely, she said, urging the EU to "change or vanish."

Summing up, Mr Juncker blamed some MEPs for using the Brexit debate as a pretext to say what they wanted to say anyway. Neither he nor the Commission as a whole can fairly be held responsible for the Brexit vote. For 40 years, UK governments have been denying any credit to the EU, he said. "At the end of the day, it does not come as a surprise that people believe the lies they have been told for decades - now the result is there".  He also stated his conviction that "EU" and "nation state" are not contradictory concepts. "EU and nations, they go together, there is no EU to be built without or against nations".

Mr Tusk said that the result of the referendum was a consequence of the political elite building up a “negative and often unfair” picture of the EU. He told MEPs that he repeatedly urges heads of state or government to stop accusing the EU of weaknesses and failures and instead to take responsibility for their own actions. “We cannot give in to the negative emotions created during the past days, but need to make sober assessments and rational decisions”, he concluded.