The 19 countries sharing the euro zone will strengthen their cooperation in all necessary fields regardless of the outcome of the British referendum on European Union membership next week, the head of the euro zone group of finance ministers said on Thursday.
The ministers meeting in Luxembourg for regular talks did not formally discuss what may happen in the event of a British vote to leave the EU in the 23 June vote, but they looked at how the euro zone should strengthen its cooperation.
“We had a discussion about what we need to do, independent of Brexit, in the euro zone,” Dutch finance minister and chair of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a news conference after the meeting.
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“That was a very fundamental debate and it showed a great sense of urgency, a great sense of common goals and targets which is to strengthen what we have,” he said.
“It was very much about how we should deal with the growing concern in our electorates of the effects of the European projects, more specifically the euro project, and there is a very, very strong commitment and determination to take steps forward,” he said.
The ministers’ approach appears to clash with calls from the chairman of European Union leaders, Donald Tusk, to put further EU integration on hold for now as plans for tighter cooperation only fuelled eurosceptic sentiment in Europe.
Tusk, who will chair a summit of EU leaders at the end of June, just days after the British vote, said on May 30 that “obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm.”
But Dijsselbloem said the atmosphere among the euro zone ministers was different, even if the next integration steps won’t be dramatic.
“In the current political climate they won’t be historic, dramatic steps forward but they will be steps forward, inevitable, unquestionable. We will take the project further, we will deepen our cooperation, make it stronger to deliver what people want from us, which is basically security in economic terms or otherwise,” Dijsselbloem said.
He did not clarify which projects would have to be accelerated, but noted more work needed to be done on fiscal and banking rules.
He and other ministers avoided any direct comment on Brexit and condemned the murder of British lawmaker Jo Cox on Thursday, who was killed while campaigning for Britain to remain in the 28-nation bloc. The ministers observed a minute of silence during their meeting after the news of the murder.