Let's move on: EU wants to keep big role after Brexit

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British MEP Jonathan Bullock holds an Union flag as he leaves with other party members the European Parliament in Brussels to take the Eurostar train back to Britain, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The U.K. is due to leave the EU on Friday the first nation in the bloc to do so. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS – As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role “in the ever-louder cacophony of the world," despite the loss of a powerful affiliate.

In a text published by several European media outlets, EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Parliament president David Sassoli and Council president Charles Michel expressed their regrets to see Britain leave but also sounded eager to turn the page, saying the U.K.'s departure marks “a new dawn for Europe."

Speaking later at news conference, von der Leyen described the EU as “global economic powerhouse” and Michel said EU leaders will devote all their “energy to building a stronger and more ambitious European Union.”

The U.K. officially leaves the continental alliance at midnight Brussels time.

“How much stronger we are when we are together," the presidents of the three EU institutions wrote. “This is why the Member States of Europe will continue to join forces and build a common future. In an age of great power competition and turbulent geopolitics, size matters. No country alone can hold back the tide of climate change, find the solutions to the digital future or have a strong voice in the ever-louder cacophony of the world. But together, the European Union can."

The main immediate task for the EU after Brexit is now to negotiate new agreements with Britain in a vast array of topics including trade, data sharing and security. Until at least the end of the year, EU rules and laws will continue to apply in Britain as the country will remain in the single market. Both parties hope they can find a satisfactory agreement for their future relationship kicking in after this transition period ends.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is adamant that he won't agree to extend the Brexit transition beyond the end of 2020, even if a deal has not been struck. But EU officials and several member states have warned it would be difficult to secure a comprehensive agreement in time, and that Britain should rather stay close to EU standards in the future to avoid new trade hurdles.

“The more the UK will diverge from the EU standards, the less the access to the single market they will have," Michel summed up.

The trio of officials then boasted about the EU's collective strength as the world's biggest single market and their determination to assume leadership on topics such as climate change in the coming years. As part of her Green Deal, von der Leyen has promised to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

As some Brexit-supporting British lawmakers, accompanied by bagpipes and a Union Jack flag, marched out of the European Parliament with their luggage to take the Eurostar train back to London, Sassoli, von der Leyen and Michel sent a friendly message to the first country ever to leave the bloc.

“Whilst the U.K. will cease to be an EU member, it will remain part of Europe. Our shared geography, history and ties in so many areas inevitably bind us and make us natural allies," they said. “We will continue to work together on foreign affairs, security and defense with a common purpose and shared mutual interests. But we will do it in different ways."