Britain will “soon regret” leaving the EU, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned in his annual state of the union speech.
He told the European Parliament that although Brexit would be a “sad, tragic” moment the remainder of the union would “move on”, setting out moves for closer economic and defence co-operation.
The “wind is back in Europe’s sails” 10 years on from the global financial crisis, he told MEPs. “We now have a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever,” he said.
Speaking in Strasbourg, Mr Juncker used the speech to propose an EU summit on the day after Brexit – March 30, 2019 – in the Romanian city of Sibiu to set out the future of the union. Saying the EU would ‘wake up’ that day to a new more unified bloc, he called for more support for countries outside the eurozone to prepare them to join the single currency and reforms to the single market.
‘We have to respect the will of the British people,’ he said.
‘We are going to make progress. We will keep moving. We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything. It isn’t the future of Europe. It isn’t the be-all and end-all.
“On the 30 March, 2019, we will be a union of 27 and suggest we prepare very well for that date.’
He added: ‘I have lived the European project through my entire life. I have fought for it, I have worked for it. I have been through good times, and I have been through bad times … I have sometimes suffered with Europe and agonised over Europe.
‘I have been through thick and thin with the European Union and never have I lost my love for the European Union. As we all know there is no love without disappointment, or very rarely.’
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) September 13, 2017
Europe’s economic recovery had seen eight million jobs created and employment at record levels, he said.
Mr Juncker also said that Turkey’s accession to the EU could be possible ‘in the foreseeable future.’ In last year’s referendum Vote Leave claimed that remaining in the EU would see 76m Turks flocking to Britain.
He added it was “high time” for Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen borderles area, proposed the opening of trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and called for a new role of EU trade minister.
He also suggested the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Council should be combined in the future and called for the adoption of qualified majority voting within the European Council on foreign policy issues.
Negotiations between the UK and EU continue although the latest round of talks, which were due to begin on Monday, have been put back with Britain calling for “more time for consultation”.