January 31, 2020 / 8:00 PM / 24 days ago

Now EU must deliver, Commission chief says on Brexit day

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a speech on the future of Europe in Brussels, Belgium January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BERLIN (Reuters) - Britain’s departure from the European Union shows the bloc must deliver for its citizens and its leaders must stand up for the project or else risk it failing, the head of the European Union’s executive, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday.

Britain leaves the EU at 2300 GMT on Friday after nearly half a century of close-knit cooperation, marking a victory for eurosceptics and dealing a major blow to post-World War Two European integration.

Reflecting on the lessons of Brexit, European Commission President von der Leyen told broadcaster ARD: “We must stand up for Europe, otherwise at some point we won’t have it any more.”

“Europe must deliver on the biggest questions - that’s what we need the European level for,” she added. “How will we address climate change? That is the ‘European Green Deal’ issue. How will we deal with digitalisation? I want us to have a concept for migration that is sustainable, effective but also human.”

After three and a half years of tortuous divorce negotiations, Britain and the EU will now launch new talks on a post-Brexit relationship ranging from security to trade. Britain and the EU enter a transition period until the end of December.

Asked whether a deal on the future relationship between the EU and Britain can be negotiated by year’s end, von der Leyen replied: “We will work day and night. We want that - we have a strong starting position.”

“We’ll see where we are at the end of the year,” she added. “We will only sign the treaty when everything is negotiated and we have a balanced package.”

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alison Williams

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