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EU leaders prepare life without Britain, mull future ties

February 22, 2018

European Council President Donald Tusk speaks during a news conference following his meeting with Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders meet without Britain Friday looking to plug a major budget hole after Brexit and endorse a plan to streamline the European Parliament by sharing out the country’s seats.

In an implicit warning to Britain, EU Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs the summit, says he will inform leaders how he plans to draw up the guidelines for future relations with their departing partner.

Britain is set to leave the EU — the first country to exit the world’s biggest trading bloc — in late March 2019. But Brexit talks must be finalized by this fall so parliaments can ratify any withdrawal agreement.

EU leaders have appealed for Britain to explain its vision of their future ties, but few details have emerged. Tusk is ramping up the pressure, saying he wants things made clear by the next EU summit on March 22-23, just a month away.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, set to run for only around five hours in Brussels, EU lawmakers said they want to slim down their assembly from 751 seats to 705. About 14 countries would get a few extra seats.

A senior EU official and an EU diplomat, who declined to be named because deliberations are not yet complete, said the leaders are almost certain to endorse the proposal.

The budget talks will be infinitely more complex. The current long-term budget — which ends on December 31, 2020, when the EU wants Britain definitively transitioned out — was only agreed after several months of acrimonious debate.

“We must not repeat the errors of the past,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned last week, as he urged the 27 remaining EU countries not to slash the next budget package.

Several countries agree in principle to boosting to the seven-year spending plan, to finance the EU’s growing ambitions in areas like migration, security and defense, but as Europe slowly makes its way out of the economic crisis some strongly object to paying more.

Friday’s summit could be a litmus test of how ambitious a Europe of 27 countries plans to be.

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