Leaders of the six European Union founding countries gathered in Berlin Saturday morning for an impromptu meeting to discuss the future of the European Union, and called on Britain to begin exit negotiations as quickly as possible.
The ministers of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg said in a joint statement that they expected the British government “to provide clarity and give effect to this decision as soon as possible," after Britons voted Friday to quit the bloc.
"We join together in saying that this process must begin as soon as possible, so we don't end up in an extended limbo period but rather can focus on the future of Europe and the work toward it,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said following the meeting.
He stressed the meeting was not “an exclusive format,” and instead several issues were discussed, including the refugee crisis, unemployment woes and EU security. Steinmeier also called on the remaining EU countries to adhere to “the spirit of the founders,” which was to avoid conflict following World War Two.
Speaking to reporters Saturday at a news conference in Potsdam, outside Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the negotiations with Britain should not take the form of a deterrent to other countries, adding that there was no hurry for London to trigger the exiting process. "Quite honestly, it should not take ages, that is true, but I would not fight over a short period of time," Merkel said.
French President Francois Hollande said Saturday from Elysee palace in Paris that he regretted the decision of the British people to quit the bloc, but had to accept it because "that is democracy." Britain should leave the EU in an orderly fashion, he added.
Hollande’s guest, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said that Britain and the EU “will now have to start intensive talks to define the steps to take. I am confident that these talks will take place in a positive and pragmatic way."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault earlier said that "there is a certain urgency ... so that we don't have a period of uncertainty, with financial consequences, political consequences.''
Meanwhile, Britain's EU commissioner, Jonathan Hill, announced his resignation, saying that it would not be right to continue after the British vote. Hill said he was very disappointed by the referendum result, but “what is done cannot be undone.”
Hill said in a statement that he started his job skeptical of the EU but leaves it “certain that, despite its frustrations, our membership was good for our place in the world and good for our economy.”
Hill said he will work with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to ensure there is an “orderly handover.”
Juncker said he regretted the resignation of Hill and wanted “the British commissioner to be in charge of financial services,” as a sign of his confidence in Britain’s membership of the European Union, adding that to his regret, “this situation is now changing.”
Juncker said he would transfer Hill's responsibilities to Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner from Latvia.