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EU Keeps Calm As Britain Decides To Carry On Without It

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All morning, we've been getting reaction to the vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union. We are joined now by Suzanne Lynch in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union. She covers the E.U. for the Irish Times. And Suzanne, you've got an interesting vantage point on this, so let's start with you. First, what's the official reaction from the EU this morning?

SUZANNE LYNCH, BYLINE: Well, so far this morning, a number of the senior EU leaders have published statements and given short press conferences. Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, has said it is not the result Europe wanted. But at the same time, he reiterated the EU's commitment to continue with this common interest among 27 member states.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has finished a very short press conference in which he said something similar. But I think the real mood here is for - on the ground - is one of absolute shock. I personally have literally bumped into people, into British officials, British expats here who were in tears this morning arriving to work. Their jobs, for example, are on the line now because, under the EU treaties, one has to be a EU citizen, a member of a member state, to work in the European Union. But I think it is encapsulating this broader sense of shock here in Brussels after what happened to the referendum...

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Suzanne, Boris Johnson described, I mean, the EU as opaque, as there's no accountability, as remote. I mean, are those criticisms that EU officials are taking seriously as they sort of react to this vote?

LYNCH: Yes, I think there is a real crisis now for the European Union. The British vote has perhaps unleashed something and tapped into something that was there, barely under the surface, across Europe. If people cast their minds back, there were various different referendums in my own country, in Ireland, in the Netherlands, in France over the last 10 years, about different aspects of EU policy. And they were all rejected.

Obviously, this is the most serious one. But there had always been signs of this growing Euro-scepticism, this growing divide between Europe, its institutions and its citizens on the ground. So I think the European Union now has some serious questions to answer because the real fear is that in the next few months, we may see calls in other countries for referendums. Already Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front in France, has called for a referendum. Similar calls have been heard from Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician in the Netherlands. So the European Union needs to try and address some of the concerns that have been raised in this referendum.

MARTIN: That was Suzanne Lynch of the Irish Times. We also have NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson with us on the line. She is in Berlin. Soraya, Germany is the biggest economy in the EU. Obviously, there are huge implications for Germans, for Germany with this vote. What are you hearing from leaders there today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, perhaps the most significant comments came from Chancellor Merkel, who spoke about this being a real incision, this referendum, and the outcome being a real incision into the task of European integration. But she was also very firm about the fact that she believes that this community, that the European Union, is something that is the only way for Europe to guarantee peace and propsperity for the continent. And so she wants to push ahead with this. But she had warnings for the people who, you know, are in the various governments and also the institutions of the EU, saying that they really need to connect more with citizens. They need to hear what citizens are saying because citizens don't feel that the EU represents them anymore.

GREENE: Wow, it sounds like - I mean, even in a country like Germany, which is sort of seen as the powerhouse of the EU, I mean, there's real concern from leaders about sort of making sure that people feel like they are, you know, respected by their government.

NELSON: Absolutely. And one thing - another thing I should say that Chancellor Merkel is trying to do now is to sort of take the leadership role here, which she's often done before. But I think - you know, she came up with a - immediately, a mini summit that's going to happen with what are going to be the core members of the new EU, if you will. And that would be France, Italy and, you know, Germany and the EU president. They're going to get together on Monday to try and hammer out some sort of plan that will hopefully push things forward in the summit in Brussels that's coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday with the remaining 27 members and possibly 28, if U.K. shows up.

GREENE: But worth noting, Soraya, I mean, this is not going to be a quick process. We're talking years, here, of negotiations and years of maybe uncertainties, as the EU leaders sort of negotiate how to manage this.

NELSON: Absolutely. I mean, two years at a minimum and - but what Chancellor Merkel is saying is this has to be a smooth process, transparent process that gives people faith and trust or, you know, helps restore that faith and trust so that there aren't going to be more people departing - or more countries departing.

GREENE: OK, that's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Thanks, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.