EU Rethinks Future Without Britain

BRUSSELS (AP) -- EU leaders are meeting Wednesday without Britain for the first time to rethink their union and keep it from disintegrating after Britain's unprecedented vote to leave -- but conflicting visions of Europe's future are complicating the high-stakes summit.

British Prime Minister David Cameron left Brussels Tuesday night without any clear divorce plan, fending off pressure for a quick exit and punting the complex departure negotiations to his successor.

With Britain's fate in Europe uncertain, the 27 remaining presidents, chancellors and prime ministers meeting in Brussels are focusing Wednesday on what the EU will look like without Britain. They all seem to agree that something must change after Britain quit, but disagree about how.

The initial EU founding nations in the west lean toward a tighter, closer union while newer nations in the east want to keep more control with national governments --- notably of their borders.

Europeans are disenchanted with the EU project and it's up to member states to inspire them with concrete changes and progress, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said upon arrival Wednesday. "We have to show that Europe brings a real added value that can be felt by our fellow citizens," he said.

Other EU countries are now facing calls, especially from the far right, for referendums on quitting the bloc amid a widespread sense that the post-war project to foster peace via trade has become a bureaucratic, undemocratic behemoth with little meaning for its half a billion citizens.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite saiss Europe must start listening to its citizens on issues like immigration and economic growth. "We all need to wake up and smell the coffee," she said.

The 27 remaining EU members are divided over how to deal with migration, a major issue in Britain's vote last week. Central European nations led by Hungary refuse to accept imposed EU refugee quotas, and countries further north have all tightened border controls in response to the arrival of more than 1 million migrants last year.

Britain's departure has roiled markets and had consequences for all of Europe and beyond, and overshadowed all the discussions Wednesday in Brussels. The unexpected exit vote will rob the EU of its richest financial market, biggest military power and a diplomatic giant.

It could also prompt an unraveling of the UK.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has indicated there may be a new referendum on Scottish independence, is in Brussels and hoping to meet with EU leaders Wednesday.

"With a disunited United Kingdom we need a united Europe more than ever," Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said.

At Tuesday night's dinner, EU leaders rejected Cameron's pleas for favorable conditions for Britain once it leaves, insisting there would be no cherry-picking of advantageous trade conditions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed suggestions that Cameron's successor might not start the formal EU withdrawal process because of the financial turmoil prompted by the vote and wide confusion about how to extract a country from the EU.

"I see no way to reverse it," Merkel said. She said this is not the time for "wishful thinking."

(KA)