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Juncker envisions EU overhaul, roles for post-Brexit UK and Turkey

The head of the EU's executive commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has suggested a dramatic restructuring of the bloc with "core" members and "orbit" nations. These outliers could include the UK and Turkey, he said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suggested a radical re-envisioning of the EU on Thursday. The new plan would see a smaller group of core EU members, and then different levels of belonging for other nations that were not prepared for full membership.

"Do we want to always advance as a group of 28? Or shouldn't it be that those who want to go fast can do so, without affecting the others?" he asked a conference in the Belgian city of Leuven. He suggested that the bloc may function better if not every country was compelled to take part in projects they had no interest in, even in matters of defense.

He suggested instead a "structured design, open to all" in the format of some "core" EU members surrounded by an outer "orbit" of less involved nations. These looser-knit nations could include the UK, for example, or even Turkey, which has been pursuing EU membership for years despite the bloc voicing concerns about Ankara's human rights record.

No hard border for Ireland

At the same time, Juncker made it clear that Europe would fight for Ireland's interests when it came to negotiations for the UK's divorce from the EU, known as Brexit. There have been concerns about the consequences of reintroducing a formal international border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"The Irish government will work closely with us during the whole process of the Brexit negotiations. We do not want to have hard borders," Juncker said after meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Brussels.

Kenny also made it clear that Dublin wants Northern Ireland to be able to join the EU immediately should it vote by referendum to join the Republic, as was the case with the former East Germany in the 1990s.

es/se (AFP, dpa)

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