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EU Leaders Look Toward Future Without Britain

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 29, 2016.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 29, 2016.

European Union leaders are focusing Wednesday on carving out a future without Britain, as they wrap up a summit in Brussels days after Britons voted to leave the bloc.

They have called for Britain to exit quickly and not to expect any membership benefits without paying the price.

The summit is likely the last for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is stepping down after his government failed to convince voters to choose staying in the EU. Speaking after the talks, he said that despite sadness and regret, the meeting of the 28 leaders was constructive.

“Britain should seek and Europe should seek the closest possible relations as Britain leaves the EU. Close relations over trade, over cooperation, over security,” said Cameron.

But other leaders, such as French President Francois Hollande, sent the message that Britain should not expect any special treatment once it leaves, including access to Europe's single market. Hollande said for that Britain would have to accept the free movement of people, something opposed by those who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned that Britain cannot have the privileges that come with EU membership without the obligations.

The Brexit vote has since sparked turmoil in financial markets, and fears of more long-term hit on growth. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said Tuesday that central banks should try to align monetary policies to reduce what he called “destabilizing spillovers.”

EU leaders are now looking at their future without Britain amid widespread calls to re-energize and reinvent the effort that began after World War II.

“It is a crisis for the EU and now it’s about how to manage that in the most coherent and unified way among 27 countries who share a very different vision about the EU project," said Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, head of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

EU heavyweights Germany, France and Italy have outlined goals like security, youth, jobs and the economy as priorities, none of which are new challenges.

Despite the rest of the block looking to its post-Britain phase, that may not happen until September at the earliest.

Cameron has said he will not be the one to initiate the breakup by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty on a negotiated departure. He will leave that to whomever takes his place as prime minister.

VOA's Luis Ramirez contributed to this report from London.