Dear President, members of the European Parliament,
Before discussing the political consequences of the UK referendum, I will first report on the other results of the June European Council, because the EU cannot stand still. The referendum in the UK does not relieve the EU of its duty to solve the migration crisis, which has undermined the sense of security across the whole of Europe. The EU must also boost its resistance to growing hybrid and cyber threats. To this end we adopted a decision on increased cooperation with NATO. Even in the UK referendum campaign, few questioned the fact that economic integration among member states benefits Europeans, as it creates jobs. This is why we have made the decision to work more closely together in the areas of digital and capital markets. The decisions taken during the summit will have a positive impact on the lives of Europeans, regardless of the UK leaving the EU.
On migration: the leaders reviewed the situation on our external borders. Crossings from Turkey to the Greek islands have now almost come to a halt. In October 2015, that border was crossed irregularly by seven thousand people daily. Now it is around fifty per day. Given this significantly lower influx, we can now efficiently manage this part of our external border. This, in turn, should restore the sense of security in Europe, which was our aim from the beginning.
Now our attention will focus on the Central Mediterranean route, where flows of predominantly economic migrants remain too high, although there has not been a significant rise in numbers compared to the last two years. Leaders agreed to move to a new way of working with third countries, applying the necessary leverage to ensure fast and operational returns of illegal migrants. The aim is clear: all irregular economic migrants must be returned to their countries of origin.
The High Representative is already taking negotiations with these countries forward. We also addressed Libya and what needs to be done to stabilise the situation there.
More broadly, we welcomed the presentation by the High Representative of a new global strategy to guide the Union’s foreign and security policy.
The leaders thanked Prime Minister Rutte for a very professional Dutch presidency and the hard work over the past six months. This includes the arrangement with Turkey to stem migration flows to the Greek islands and also the political agreement on the new European Border and Coast Guard. I would like to thank this House for your invaluable contribution in helping to achieve this in the necessary timeframe.
Let me now turn to Brexit, where our discussion was calm and measured. Respecting the will of the British people, the EU leaders recognised that a process of orderly exit is now in everyone’s, and especially in the UK’s, interest. Prime Minister Cameron explained why he is leaving the decision to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to the new leadership in Britain. The leaders understand that some time is needed to allow the political landscape to settle in Britain. But they also expect the intentions of the UK government to be specified as soon as possible.
We also considered the post-Brexit economic situation in the presence of the European Central Bank President, who reassured us about the cooperation of international financial institutions. However, it was also made clear that Brexit means substantially lower growth in the UK, with a possible negative spillover all over the world.
For the second day of our summit the leaders met informally without the UK Prime Minister to discuss our common future. I would like to reassure you that the leaders are absolutely determined to remain united and work closely together as 27. We also agreed that there will be no negotiations of any kind until the UK formally notifies its intention to withdraw from the EU. It is now up to the British government to submit such a notification to the European Council.
We hope to have the UK as a close partner in the future. But leaders made it clear that access to the single market means acceptance of all four freedoms, including the freedom of movement. We will not sell off our freedoms and there will be no single market “à la carte”.
This was the first exchange of the 27 leaders after the British referendum. It is still too early to draw conclusions more broadly on our future course. But it is clear that too many people in Europe are unhappy with the current state of affairs, be it on the national or European level, and expect us to do better. The leaders recalled during our debate that for decades Europe has brought hope and that we have a responsibility to return to that. This is why the EU-27 will meet informally on 16 September in Bratislava, kindly hosted by the Slovak presidency. We will take this opportunity to continue our political reflection. Thank you.