BRATISLAVA The head of the European Union's executive vented frustration on Friday at calls for deep reforms to reinvent the EU after Brexit, saying there were no proposals on what exact changes were needed to safeguard European integration.
The comments by Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, highlight the vulnerable spot the EU has found itself in after the shock British vote to leave what is still a 28-nation bloc cast a long shadow over its future.
"We have to re-explain the reform agenda which is under way," Juncker told a news conference in Slovakia. "We are fighting red tape...We are modernising the European economy - digital union, energy union, deepening of the internal market, capital markets union, banking union.
"Everyone is saying 'We need more reforms'. Nobody is saying what kind of reforms we would need in addition to those which are under way, including some initiatives we have taken in the field of the social dimension of the internal market."
Juncker was speaking at a joint conference with Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, which took over the EU's rotating presidency on Friday until the end of the year.
"I will not say that nothing has to change. But the things moving in the right directions will not change," Juncker said.
Fico, who will host a Sept. 16 meeting of all EU leaders but the British one as the 27 ponder the future of their troubled union, is calling for more powers to be returned to national capitals at the expense of the Commission.
EU government leaders are keen to blunt the appeal of rightist eurosceptic parties that have mined growing discontent over a longtime trend of integration driven by Brussels seen by many to be eroding national sovereignty.
Fico also said Germany, France and other Western EU states could dictate the future. Some in the Western EU say the bloc should deepen integration in areas including its single-currency euro zone after Britain's exit is complete.
Greece, which has gone through an acute debt crisis that nearly knocked it out from the euro zone, has called for a more "social" rather than liberal market Europe as it struggles with a weak, uncompetitive economy and high jobless rate.
Many EU government leaders name unemployment and migration as key areas to tackle to shore up the credibility of the grand post-World War Two project of European unity for the bloc's 500 million people.
But there is scant agreement among EU capitals about how exactly to tackle these issues with the bloc still recovering from its debt crisis and polarised over immigration after 1.3 million refugees and migrants reached the continent last year.
(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Mark Heinrich)