European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today (16 July) said that the European Union would survive a Brexit – the UK voting to leave the bloc in the referendum to be held in one week’s time.
“I don’t think the European Union will be in danger of death if Britain leaves, because we’d continue (the) process of closer cooperation in Europe, if not of deepening the EU, and mainly the Economic and Monetary Union,” Juncker said at a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Separately in Finland, European Council President Donald Tusk warned that the EU without the UK would be “distinctly weaker.” He admitted, “It’s very difficult for us to be optimistic today, we know the latest polls.”
“The EU will survive I have no doubt,” he said. He added, “it will be a huge mistake for them and for us if the Brexit camp wins in the UK.”
Tusk said that discreet discussions were ongoing with member states about what to do in case of Brexit.
“I can assure you we will be ready,” he said.
Juncker advised the British people to choose Remain on 23 June.
“I think our British friends would be best advised not to do it. Because if Britain is voting to leave the European Union, this would open a period of major uncertainty, both in Britain and in the European Union, and on a more global level, and this should be avoided,” he said.
“We have to face crises enough, we don’t have to add another crisis to the already existing crises,” he added, referring to the refugee crisis and Europe’s struggle to return to economic growth.
Juncker said that the EU and the European Commission needed to learn lessons from the British referendum, warning that Euroscepticism was present all over the bloc.
He blamed previous Commission for over-regulating, and creating the image of meddling bureaucrats in Brussels.
“This Euroscepticism is not only present in Britain. I think that as a European Union and as a Commission we made some major mistakes in the last decades,” he said.
The former prime minister of Luxembourg said his Commission had cut red tape, and brought out far less legislation than its predecessors.
“Not every problem existing in the European Union is a problem that the European Union has to deal with,” he said.
“The less we are doing and the better we are doing, the more people will understand that the European Union is the only answer our continent has when facing global challenges,” he said.
Those challenges included the refugee crisis, terrorism and climate change.
In Helsinki, Tusk told reporters, “The European Union is not and cannot be a fair-weather project. It is also made for rainy days, like here today, which we are demonstrating through our concerted efforts to tackle our common problems, one by one, together.”
“History has taught us that we were always defeated when divided. And that we always won when we stood united,” he said.
“Europe without the United Kingdom will be distinctly weaker,” said Tusk. “This is obvious. Equally obvious is that the UK outside the EU will be distinctly weaker too.”
Tusk claimed that British influence in the EU had never been stronger, that it was a “key state” and its voice was respected.
“Today, more than ever before, many of the British ideas about the EU are gaining support all over Europe. There are so many things we can do together. Leaving now doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“Instead of seven years of political limbo and uncertainty in our relations, which will be the inevitable and direct result of Brexit, we can have a fast, and lasting less than one year, implementation of the new settlement for the UK in the EU, negotiated by David Cameron.”
“The direct results of a Brexit will be very dangerous for our economy, in the UK and in the rest of Europe. This is a fact,” Tusk said.
“We have to respect the will and decision of the British nation but it is our right and our obligation to be frank and fair with our argumentation,” he added.
“I am absolutely aware that our influence is limited when it comes to the final result of the referendum,” he said, “It’s still 50-50 everything is possible and this is why we have to do what we can.”
The European Commission has pursued a policy of not campaigning in the referendum, but some Commissioners have waded into the debate.
They include Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, of Ireland, Financial Services Commissioner Jonathan Hill (UK), and, yesterday, Günther Oettinger.
Oettinger, in charge of Digital Single Market, said the EU would “develop a new perspective” and “gather new dynamics” after Brexit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union before his election in May 2015. The renegotiation was to be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
After the February 2016 European Council, where a reform deal was agreed, Cameron will campaign to stay in with the referendum date set for 23 June.
- 23 June: Referendum