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Free movement in EU 'will not change'- Juncker

Saturday, July 2, 2016 - 00:05

[BRATISLAVA] European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has vowed that free movement will remain a cornerstone of the EU after the outgoing British prime minister insisted that reforming it would be "key" to post-Brexit ties.

"I will not change that (free movement) because that is a basic freedom of the EU," Mr Juncker said in Bratislava alongside Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country assumed the bloc's six-month presidency on Friday.

Mr Juncker invited British authorities to "make their intentions clear" following the June 23 vote to leave the EU.

"I would like to make it perfectly clear: no negotiations before notification. We have no time to lose," Mr Juncker said, referring to the requirement London formally state it is leaving to begin talks on departing the EU.

Yet Prime Minister David Cameron told EU leaders Tuesday they should consider reforming rules on freedom of movement, a Downing Street source said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Mr Cameron told a leaders' dinner in Brussels that Britain and the EU should "have as close an economic relationship as possible and that the key to staying close is really to look at reform to free movement".

The Slovak Republic will organise an informal EU summit - without Britain - on Sept 16.

"Away from Brussels, we want to talk very openly about the future of the European project," said the staunchly anti-migrant Fico.

Dubbed the "Fico Summit" by Juncker, the Bratislava meeting will also deal with migration.

Earlier this year Fico filed a lawsuit against an EU-wide quota system plan to redistribute refugees across the bloc after insisting it was committing "ritual suicide" with its policy to accept large numbers of migrants, mostly refugees from war-torn Syria.

Fico also vowed to "never bring even a single Muslim to Slovakia" ahead of a March general election, which saw a far-right party enter parliament for the first time.

His anti-migrant moves have echoed eastern EU hawks like Czech President Milos Zeman, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Slovakia, a eurozone member of 5.4 million people, hold the EU's six-month rotating presidency until January, when Britain was due to take over.

Its shock choice to leave the bloc in a June 23 in-out referendum appears to have upended that plan, with Juncker sniping "Joke of the day: the British Presidency" at the Friday conference.

AFP