At a plenary session attended by both Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, GUE/NGL MEPs repeatedly urged the Brussels elite to use Brexit as an opportunity to reform the EU.

Opening for the Group, President Gabi Zimmer described the EU chiefs’ official response to the UK referendum result as very disappointing:

“What we heard from the Council meeting’s conclusions last week is scandalous. To say they need more time to think and a period for further reflections but with no concrete plans or anything to reflect upon reminds me of how they reacted after the failed EU referenda in France and the Netherlands.”

“If we don’t change anything, this European Union of the citizens will fail and we’ll all be responsible for that,” she said.

Zimmer further warned that the proposed sanctions against Portugal and Spain for breaching EU budget deficit rules and the lack of accountability in pushing through international free-trade agreements are also highly damaging to the credibility of the EU:

“If this goes on, you’ll have member states going their own way and tensions within and outside the Eurozone will increase.”

“And despite EU citizens’ protest against CETA and TTIP, Mr Juncker is wrong to say CETA shouldn’t be discussed in national parliaments. How can that be right?!”

“It’s undemocratic and such rhetoric merely confirms people’s beliefs about the non-democratic nature of the EU,” Zimmer added.

Zimmer also rejected any discussions about possible Treaty change when there are far more urgent issues to grapple with:

“It is time for us in the EU to stand together and devise a humanitarian aid programme which would send a message to those who have suffered most in Greece, eastern and southern EU because of the debt crisis.”

“We need a minimum income above the poverty line in all member states; equal pay for equal work at the same place – we can do all that without changing the Treaties.”

“These are things that we have to do now so that we can alleviate people’s fears about being poorer and we can alleviate people’s perceived fears of refugees coming into our countries.”

Zimmer concluded, “We should send a signal to the young generation that Brexit has no negative impact on vocational training funds and programmes like Erasmus. Young people who already live, learn and work as European should not become the victims of Brexit.”

Also speaking at the plenary, Italian MEP Barbara Spinelli was equally adamant that neither the rights of citizens nor the referendum result should be ignored:

“So, should we cede more sovereignty to the EU?! I doubt that the remaining member states will accept this.”

“If we condemn the referendum, this will come back to haunt us,” she warned.

Irish MEP Martina Anderson also issued a stark warning to the chamber about the impact on parts of Ireland after the Brexit vote:

“Brexit will turn the north of Ireland into an economic basket case. I say to you the people of the north of Ireland voted remain and they want that accepted and they want that respected.”

Fellow Irish MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, however, laid the blame for the Union’s current predicament squarely at the head of the European Commission:

“The Brexit vote has set the alarm bells ringing across Europe but the message from the British people isn’t just for their own government, it’s for the EU, for the Council, for the Commission and for you Mr Juncker especially.”

“There is a saying: ‘Don’t hold onto a mistake just because you spent a long time making it’. I say here, undo this Union, starting with Lisbon and Nice. Else Mr Juncker, ask not for whom that bell tolls – it tolls for you.”

Last to speak for the group was Danish MEP Rina Ronja Kari who urged all sides to put ordinary citizens first during future negotiations:

“We must recognise the choice of the British people; they want to leave the EU but they also want to work together and to trade. They must not be isolated.”

“We must make sure citizens in other EU countries are given a voice as well. We must listen to them and it’s high time that we should ask them,” she said in closing. 

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