April 16, 2019: European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday the European Union can focus unhindered on building its own future now that Britain has a longer delay to work out its troubled exit.
Speaking to the European Parliament, Juncker also insisted Britain cooperate with the EU during the delay, which he did not expect to be renewed after October 31, and be treated as a full member.
“The future of our union is not Brexit,” Juncker, the head of the 28-nation EU's executive arm, told the parliament in its last session before the May 23-26 elections.
“Brexit cannot and will not hinder our progress,” Juncker said, adding the delay agreed at a summit last week will mean Europe will not be forced to discuss Brexit every week.
He referred to key decisions ahead on a new multi-year EU budget, international trade, and the selection of new European leaders, including his replacement.
Echoing terms of the delay the EU granted Britain at a summit last week, Juncker also underlined anew Britain's role in the months or weeks ahead.
“We are requesting there will be a loyal and responsible cooperation,” the former Luxembourg premier said, switching to English from a speech in French and German.
But Juncker also said Britain must be treated as a full member as long as it stays in the block. “We don't have member states of second rank.”
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, underlined Juncker's points on Britain's role ahead and said the delay allowed Europe to focus on other priorities like trade with the United States.