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We're like one fist: EU chiefs deny split over bloc's future

The European Union's top officials have denied a rift after they gave conflicting visions over how the bloc should combat euroskepticism and the risk of a break-up.

On the eve of an EU summit in Bratislava on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk said that he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were like "one fist" and that was "no problem" between them — despite the two leaders offering diverging views of whether there should be, in Juncker's view, "more Europe" and "more unity" or, as Tusk said, an honest look at the direction the EU is taking and the danger of alienating its citizens further.

In Juncker's annual "State of the Union" address on Wednesday, he said that European integration had to come before the interests of national states amid a tide of "galloping populism." Europe is facing increasing euroskepticism among its citizens and member states increasingly critical of the leaning towards more political integration and a "supranational" EU.


EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (L) and EU Council President Donald Tusk.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (L) and EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Meanwhile, on the eve of an EU summit in Bratislava on Friday, which is being attended by 27 EU leaders – apart from U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May – Donald Tusk told reporters that leaders could not start discussions with "this kind of blissful conviction that nothing is wrong and everything is ok."

He insisted that he and Juncker's visions for Europe were the same, however.

"I'm absolutely sure that we have the same vision because what we need first of all in Europe today is good cooperation, solidarity and this political will to cooperate among member states. But at the same time we need very effective institutions and believe me, me and Jean-Claude Juncker we are like one fist."

Discussions in Bratislava are not specifically about Brexit or the exit process (which has yet to formally begin) but will focus on the future of the EU in the wake of the U.K.'s vote to leave, the root causes of dissatisfaction and fragmentation between member states over controversial issues like the migration crisis. Tusk told reporters that complacency over the future of the EU was not an option.

"I'm absolutely sure that, after Bratislava, we have to assure our citizens that we have learned the lesson from Brexit," Tusk said.

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United Front

EU leaders and ministers were determined to put on a united front as the arrived in Bratislava, for the summit.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told CNBC that the Brexit vote was regrettable and was "a loss for the whole EU but we have to work from that and show that we can unite."

He said that Juncker's call for a "stronger" EU was correct and said the bloc needed to coordinate on security.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern told CNBC as he arrived at the summit that it was "time to achieve some progress on the real issues (facing Europe) which are migration, security and social welfare and I'm quite optimistic that we'll have good progress today," he said.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, also said that the EU had to stick together - despite different stances on issues such as the migrant crisis. Those differences came to a fore last week when Luxembourg's foreign minister called for Hungary to be kicked out of the EU for its authoritarian stance towards migrants who have arrived on the continent, many fleeing war in the Middle East.

"We are in a family. We are together in the family. If we have some problems in the family we have to discuss it in the family and not kick someone out," Bettel told CNBC as he arrived for the meeting.

- CNBC's Nancy Hungerford contributed reporting to this story.