East Europe Backs EU After Brexit as Poland Charts Looser Union

The European Union needs a “very serious” overhaul to survive, Poland’s prime minister said, as east European members pledged to stay in the bloc following Britain’s vote to leave.

Beata Szydlo said Poland, the EU’s largest post-communist nation with a population of 38 million, wants to “rebuild” the trading alliance by handing more power to national governments and reducing the role of the EU’s executive. The EU’s other 27 nations have been struggling to come up with a united response to the U.K.’s vote to depart, with politicians split over whether to curb Brussels’ powers or boost cooperation, perhaps starting with countries sharing the euro currency.

“They say: let’s deepen integration and stay in the same entourage, don’t change a thing,” Szydlo told public television in an interview, referring to a group of EU founder members led by Germany and France. “We say: ‘No,’ this type of EU no longer exists. Britain clearly rejected it.”

Poland, the biggest beneficiary of the EU budget, has lauded U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s vision for a less-integrated Europe, betting that the Brexit debate will create more room for member countries to pursue their own policies without interference from Brussels. Szydlo’s seven-month-old government would stand to benefit from such an approach, as it’s locked in a standoff with the European Commission, which has launched a probe into whether Poland is backsliding on the bloc’s democratic standards.

Szydlo’s comments follow warnings from leaders across the EU to change the way the bloc runs itself or face repeats of the Brexit ballot from voters who feel they’re subject to decisions made by officials they didn’t elect. In neighboring Slovakia, the far-right People’s Party said it will launch a petition to hold a referendum on leaving the EU, echoing calls by Marine Le Pen’s French National Front party, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party, and Matteo Salvini, who leads Italy’s Northern League.

No Stopping

Still, foreign ministers from the EU’s east voiced commitment to staying in the bloc and making it work. The region’s financial markets recovered losses on Monday, with eastern European government bonds rallying on speculation the U.K.’s departure from the EU will force central banks to keep lax monetary conditions for longer.

“It can’t, and won’t, stop further development of the EU,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said Monday after hosting his German, French, Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian counterparts in Prague. “The EU is a vital project we all need and we are prepared to do everything to ensure it continues to be successful.”

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