East EU states want powers returned to capitals after Brexit vote

As UK prime minister, Mr David Cameron, visits Brussels for the first time since Britain's Brexit vote, European leaders have told him to act quickly to resolve the political and economic chaos unleashed since the referendum.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addresses a press conference after the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addresses a press conference after the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic called on Tuesday (June 28) for the powers of the European Commission to be reined in after Britain voted to leave the EU, with Warsaw calling for the dismissal of Jean-Claude Juncker, the executive's head.

Last week's referendum alarmed governments in the former communist eastern region of the EU who had seen London as their main eurosceptic ally in efforts to reduce centralised control from Brussels.

"We are asking if this ... leadership of the European Commission... has... a right to continue functioning, fixing Europe," Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said. "In our opinion, it does not... New politicians, new commissioners should undertake this task, and first of all we should give new prerogatives to the European Council, because it consists of politicians who have a democratic mandate."

Warsaw has clashed with the Commission over its controversial attempt to curb the powers of the constitutional court, which led Brussels to launch an investigation into the rule of law in Poland.

Tension between the Brussels executive, which drafts and enforces EU legislation, and member states, which exercise their authority collectively in the EU Council, has been a permanent feature of the bloc over six decades.

But the Commission led by Luxemburger Juncker has particularly irritated the eastern states with its efforts to impose fixed quotas on taking in some the 1.3 million refugees and migrants who reached Europe last year. "We need to change the overall functioning of the EU and I think it is needed to change the functioning of the European Commission," said Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

"Member states should be the engine of positive changes in the EU ... I would be very glad if the Commission were more helpful in finding compromises within the EU. I would like the Commission to respect more decisions of the European Council."

His foreign minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, said over the weekend Juncker was the wrong man for the job.

The eastern countries, known together as the Visegrad group, see Brexit as a strategic blow also because the bloc's common budget - of which all four are net beneficiaries - would shrink should the UK stop paying its contributions.

Sobotka said Brexit could take several years and urged no rush to kick UK out. Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads the ruling party and is the main powerbroker, went even further.

"Our idea today envisages efforts to have the United Kingdom return to the EU," Polish media quoted Kaczynski as saying on Monday. "But the EU must change radically."

He said the EU needed a new treaty to return more power to national capitals. Poland in particular sees London as its key ally in the bloc.

Both are outside the EU's single currency zone and Warsaw - fearful of Russia - benefits from having a powerful ally who is hawkish on sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine and enjoys very close ties with Washington.

About 800,000 Poles live in Britain, the country's second-largest overseas-born population, and there has been a spate of racially motivated hate crimes against them following the Brexit vote in which immigration was a key factor.

JUNCKER STAYS

The Visegrad four joined the EU in 2004 but have grown increasingly eurosceptic in recent years. In a joint statement on Tuesday, they said that the voice of national parliaments must be heard more in the EU.

"The institutions of the European Union need to stick to their missions and mandates... The European Union will necessarily have to focus on topics that unite us," their statement read.

"Topics pulling the European Union institutions, its Member States or even individual societies apart are contrary to the goals of Union of trust and action."

Juncker told the European Parliament on Tuesday he was neither tired nor sick and had no intention of resigning.