EU will move on despite 'tragic' Brexit - Juncker
(ShareCast News) - European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said the day Britain leaves the EU will be 'sad and tragic' but the bloc will move on regardless.
Delivering his state of the union speech in front of MEPs in Strasbourg, Juncker also backed the idea of creating a new European economic and finance minister position as part of a new reform package for the bloc.
The tone of Wednesday's address marked a sharp reversal from the previous year's, when Juncker described how the EU was 'not in a good state' following the UK vote to leave and the rise of populism.
"March 29th 2019. That will be the date when the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. This will be a very sad and tragic moment in our history - we will always regret this, and I think that you will regret it soon, if I might say," Juncker said.
"Nonetheless we have to respect the will of the British people, but we will have to make progress, we will move on."
The Commission president gave a passionate defence of the European project, despite acknowledging the problems it had faced over the last twelve months.
"We only had two choices, either come together around the positive European agenda or each retreat into our own corner," he said.
"Faced with this choice I argued for unity," he added, "I proposed a positive agenda to create a Europe that protects, a Europe that empowers, a Europe that defends."
The former Luxembourg prime minister backed a series of reforms which included a new drive for applicable states to join the common currency, as well as an expansion of the Schengen zone.
He also risked causing consternation among UK trade representatives after he called on the EU to seek out trade deals with Australia and New Zealand ahead of Brexit.
Juncker said he would like to see deals in place with the Commonwealth states by 2019, just at the point when the UK would be free to negotiate its own trade agreements.