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Poll result means Juncker must quit, says Czech minister

Smaller countries blame \'negative\' president\'s aim of more EU federalism for British vote to leave.

Published: 27th June 2016 10:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th June 2016 10:03 AM   |  A+A-

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. |AP

BRUSSELS: Jean-Claude Juncker, should resign as a result of the Brexit vote, the Czech foreign minister said yesterday (Sunday), as divisions over the direction of Europe emerged in the remaining 27 EU states.

The president of the European Commission, who has repeatedly called for "more Europe" to fix the bloc's mounting crises, was a "negative symbol" of the federal Europe that British voters had rejected, LubomA-r ZaorA¡lek said.

"He is not the right person for that position," he said on Czech television, voicing fears of smaller EU states that Britain's departure could leave them at the mercy of more EU integration. "We have to ask who is responsible for the result of the referendum in Britain."

As Brussels digests the loss of the world's fifth-largest economy and the risk that populist anti-EU parties will demand referendums, officials from the 27 states met in the Belgian capital yesterday to discuss how to put up a united front at this week's EU summit.

The UK will be pointedly left outside the room on Wednesday as "the 27" consider measures including deeper security co-operation and anti-terror plans, to show they are "determined" to stay together, EU officials said. However as the Czechs and small countries warned against "integration initiatives" and called for solutions to practical problems, France and Germany openly discussed plans for security structures which critics call an "EU army".

They are likely to be seized on by anti-EU parties, with Austria's far-Right Freedom Party yesterday warning an EU centralisation agenda would trigger demands for more polls.

"If a course is set within a year further towards centralisation instead of taking [the EU's] core values into account, then we must ask Austrians whether they want to be members," said Norbert Hofer, its candidate who missed becoming Austria's president by less than one per cent last month.

There is also growing awareness that grand projects are being rejected by anti-EU parties across Europe, such as France's National Front whose leader Marine Le Pen is expected to play a major role in next year's presidential poll.

Trying to put a less intrusive face on the EU, mainstream French politicians have called for a reduction of Mr Juncker's "big Europe" agenda. "We must put an end to this sad and finicky Europe," said Manuel Valls, France's prime minister. "Too often it is intrusive on details and desperately absent on what's essential. We must break away from the dogma of ever more Europe."

Such reform calls have not been able to conceal deep splits in Europe on economic policy, with debt-ridden southern states, including Italy, demanding an end to German-backed austerity.

Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi used the Brexit vote yesterday to demand more budget flexibility to stimulate growth. "Austerity policies are clouding the horizon. They have turned the future into a threat. They have given fear a push," Mr Renzi wrote in an Italian newspaper, arguing that Brexit had been born in part out of a collapse in UK manufacturing.

"Without growth, there are no jobs. Without investment, there is no tomorrow. Without (budget) flexibility, there is no community. Europe is not finished. It only needs to be liberated from resentment, bureacracy and myopia."

Germany has indicated it will not let Italy or France use the Brexit vote to make it alter economic policy, opting instead to focus on the far less contentious common security agenda.

Mr Renzi is due in Berlin today to discuss how the EU reacts to Brexit, putting on a united front with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. EU officials said there was at least agreement among the 27 that Britain, in its current political crisis, was in no position to invoke Article 50 and trigger exit talks.

Despite Mrs Merkel hinting there was no hurry, sources in Berlin and Brussels said this did not imply a "way out" for the UK. "Politicians in London should take the time to reconsider the consequences [of Brexit]," said Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff. "I emphatically do not mean Brexit itself."

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