Meeting in Bratislava, EU leaders discussed their citizens' concerns and how to proceed now the Union has lost the United Kingdom.
The leaders of the 27 remaining countries of the European Union met in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Friday to reflect on a post Brexit Europe and what changes need to be made to ensure the bloc's future.
The "informal" summit – so-called because any formal one still has to include Britain until it leaves the bloc – was aimed at restoring public faith in the European Union, which for decades was seen as a guarantor of peace and prosperity but is now, officials acknowledge, in an "existential crisis."
The aim in Bratislava was to agree a "road map" for reform of the EU that can be finalised over the next half year. More concrete proposals would be presented at a summit in March of next year that coincides with the 60th anniversary of the bloc's founding Treaty of Rome.
At the summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the British vote had plunged the rest of the bloc into a "critical" situation and that the 27 had agreed to use the next six months to develop a plan to reinvigorate the Union.
"We have agreed that Europe, in the critical situation it's in after the referendum in Britain but also due to other problems we have, that we must jointly agree on an agenda, that we must have a working plan," she said, referring to a summit in the Italian capital to mark 60 years of the Treaty of Rome.
Many citizens of EU member states have shown dissatisfaction with the Union's current economic and social policies.
EU President Donald Tusk responded to these concerns in a letter preceding the meeting:
"Following Brexit, business as usual is not an option. We can either come out of this crisis weaker and conflicted, or stronger and more united,
"The economic and cultural potential of our twenty-seven countries, the talent and education of our citizens, is more than enough to believe in Europe and its ability to compete with the rest of the world in an effective and secure manner."
Reaction to the summit
The refugee crisis was the most divisive issue at the summit, with many Eastern European leaders including Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, the summit's host, blaming Merkel for opening the continent's doors.
The Eastern Europeans also oppose compulsory relocation of migrants around the bloc to ease the burden on Greece and Italy, part of more fundamental opposition to power being centralised in Brussels.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the summit had failed to change EU immigration policies that he called "self-destructive and naive." He planned a new push for change at meeting of Balkan states on Sept. 24.
Other leaders were more positive.
French President Francois Hollande, sitting alongside her in a demonstration of how Britain's departure has thrown the focus back on to the two old enemies who drove the bloc's foundation after World War Two, said the summit had shown that the Union could move on after the British referendum result.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Twitter, "We have a proposal of a road map for concrete steps for strengthening citizens confidence in the functioning of the EU."
#BratislavaSummit skonil. Mme nvrh cestovn mapy konkrtnch krok pro poslen dvry oban ve fungovn EU.— Bohuslav Sobotka (@SlavekSobotka) September 16, 2016
Diplomats said the busy morning of talks in Bratislava's hilltop castle had remained civil and constructive in analysing what was wrong. "There were no recriminations," said a spokesman for summit chair Donald Tusk. "It was in a good atmosphere."
But Mujtaba Rahman, of political risk consultancy Eurasia, said the summit may only end up advertising "the scarcity of common ground" among the EU-27 and the weakness of its most important leaders Merkel, Hollande and Italy's Matteo Renzi.