Central European states have backed EU reform but rejected deeper integration in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the bloc, amid stinging high-profile criticism of its top officials.
The foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic said the EU must not impose unpopular policies on member states, having rejected German-led efforts to distribute large numbers of refugees around the bloc.
The ministers also sought a significant role in talks on how Britain will leave the EU, given how many of their citizens are living and working there and how much they depend on EU development funds that will shrink with Britain’s departure.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chief of Poland's ruling conservative party, led the verbal attacks on top EU officials by accusing Donald Tusk – a long-time domestic rival who is now president of the European Council – of playing a "particularly dark role" ahead of Britain's referendum.
Mr Tusk “conducted negotiations with the British and in fact contributed to them getting nothing”, said Mr Kaczynski, who is widely seen as Poland’s most powerful politician, dominating followers who include the president and premier.
"Hence, he is directly responsible for 'Brexit' and should simply disappear from European politics. But this concerns the whole of the European Commission in its present composition."
Visit to Britain
Czech foreign minister
asked why Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the European Commission, had not visited Britain before Thursday’s referendum to urge the country to stay in the bloc.
“I don’t want to call on anyone [to quit], but . . . someone in the EU maybe should contemplate quitting, because this is a responsibility someone should have assumed,” Mr Zaoralek said.
“Right now I can’t see the European Commission chairman as the right man for the job,” he added.
Hosting foreign ministers from central Europe, Germany and France in Prague on Monday, Mr Zaoralek said "the debate on the future of the EU must take place on the platform of 27 states, and the key ones who should lead it are leaders of the individual member states".
“The wrong response would be a quick, hasty integration, and the wrong response would be to pretend nothing has happened.”
Slovakia – which takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in July – said Britain should not take too long to start negotiating its exit.
"It is not necessary to rush . . . but the legal situation does not correspond to the political situation. And that is not right," Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak said.
Poland and Hungary warned against hasty moves to push Britain out, however, and the latter reiterated criticism of how EU decisions are made.
"The British referendum has clearly shown that the people of Europe are not prepared to accept that decisions on the future of Europe – including on such important issues as who the people of Europe will have to live with – are made somewhere in Brussels, " said Hungary's top diplomat, Peter Szijjarto.
Hungary’s government said it hoped to attract businesses now in Britain that want to keep operating in the EU.