BERLIN — The European Union must heed “the expectations of the people” on issues such as migration and unemployment as it responds to Britain’s vote to leave the bloc, Germany’s foreign minister said Saturday.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier was meeting with top diplomats from the EU’s five other founding nations in Berlin for hastily arranged talks following Britain’s stunning vote Thursday to leave the union.
The German foreign minister invited his counterparts from France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg to the government’s Villa Borsig mansion on the outskirts of Berlin.
As he was heading into the meeting, Steinmeier implied it is important for leaders to better connect with the EU’s more than 500 million citizens and react to their worries.
He said now is the time to find out what the 27 remaining EU countries want for the future of the union. He said they also needed to listen to the EU’s citizens and hear “the expectations of the people.”
Steinmeier mentioned the refugee crisis, high unemployment among young people in southern Europe and security concerns following the terror attacks in France and Belgium as important issues where people had the right to expect better answers from EU policy makers.
However, he cautioned against making rash decisions.
“It’s totally clear that in times like these, one should neither be hysterical nor fall into paralysis,” Steinmeier said.
Almost defiantly, he said that “I’m certain that countries that have something to say will not allow that their Europe will be taken away.”
The EU was built in the grim aftermath of World War II with the hope of leading the destroyed continent to a more peaceful and prosperous future. First launched as European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, it was turned into the European Economic Community in 1957 by the six founding members present in Berlin this weekend.
Gradually, more and more western European states joined. With the fall of communism in 1989, the economic and political union also opened its doors to eastern and central European countries like Hungary and Poland.
Despite the union’s current crisis, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said they would “try to go further now with the European integration.”
“We need to discuss with the U.K. the way out, but we need also to discuss how it is possible to do more with some partners or with 27 member states in different concrete fields,” Reynders told reporters.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said it was very important for the foreign ministers to look for “constructive, innovative European co-operation.”
Steinmeier’s office had said earlier that the meeting is one of many conversations now taking place, and shouldn’t be seen as “an exclusive format.”
Besides the German, Dutch and Belgian foreign ministers, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni and Jean Asselborn from Luxembourg were also taking part in the talks.
Despite the foreign ministers’ determination to look for solutions to the current crisis, the head of the EU’s executive Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned in German daily Bild on Saturday that other countries may also call for referendums to leave the EU.
He told Bild that the exit of Britain did not mean the beginning of the end for the EU, but warned that “the populists will not leave out this opportunity to promote their anti-Europe politics with much noise.”
At the same time, he said the consequences the British people may now face by their country’s exit, could quickly bring such “crude incitement” to an end.
“It should show quickly that Great Britain did better in the EU — economically, socially and when it comes to foreign politics,” Juncker said.