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EU's Brexit crisis summit highlights rifts across Europe

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said that the EU was in a \"critical situation\".

Published: 17th September 2016 08:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2016 08:48 AM   |  A+A-

European attempts to put up a united front in the face of Brexit lay in tatters last night (Friday) after a crisis summit in Bratislava ended with EU leaders refusing to share a stage and in open disagreement over immigration and austerity.

The deep political divisions were laid bare in spectacular fashion within minutes of EU leaders breaking up from a day of talks that had been designed to confront the "existential crisis" facing the EU with a new spirit of "loyal co-operation and communication".

All talk of unity evaporated when Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, refused to do a press conference with his German and French counterparts because of the failure to do more to help the continent's ailing southern economies.

"I cannot hold a press conference with [Angela] Merkel and [Francois] Hollande if I don't agree with their positions on immigration and the economy," he said.

Mr Renzi, who is fighting for his political life after promising he would resign if he failed to win a referendum on Italian governance reforms later this year, is angry with Germany's refusal cut him more slack on his domestic budgets ahead of elections in 2018.

Disagreements were not confined to Europe's north-south divide over austerity, but also erupted over the east-west split on immigration, with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, condemning the EU's migration policy as "self-destructive and naive".

Mr Orban, the nationalist strongman who this month promised to mount a "counter-revolution" to take power back to the EU capitals, made his attack in direct defiance of warnings from senior EU leaders to stop bashing Brussels, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

Mr Orban's open dissent was all the more remarkable since it came only hours after both he and Beata Szydlo, the Polish prime minister, had been taken aside by Donald Tusk, the European Council president, and told to stop attacking Brussels for the sake of preserving the integrity of the EU.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said that the EU was in a "critical situation" and that it was vital the leaders agreed to a plan of action.

"We have agreed that Europe, in the critical situation in which it is after the referendum in Britain, but also because of other difficulties that we have, that we must jointly agree on an agenda, that we must have a working plan to be able to handle the respective issues," she said after the talks.

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