REUTERS — Europe needs to "lance the boil" after Britain decided to leave the European Union and reinvent itself, France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Tuesday, warning that timid steps would only leave the door open to populist, eurosceptic parties.
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Even if Britain was a country that had always had "one foot in, one foot out" of the bloc, Europe must not turn a blind eye to a wider popular malaise, the Socialist premier said.
"Now is not the time for diplomatic prudence. We have to lance the boil," Valls told lawmakers at the opening of a parliamentary debate on the consequences of Britain's referendum vote on June 23 to leave the EU.
The Brexit vote highlighted a deep-seated unease among voters, Valls said. Failure to make Europe more relevant to voters — increasingly disgruntled over immigration and the erosion of national sovereignty in a drive for EU integration — would leave the doors open to populist eurosceptic parties.
Valls said French President Francois Hollande, who is in Brussels for a European Council summit, had a firm message for Britain that there would be no Brexit negotiations before London triggers a two-year countdown for completion of the divorce.
"We don't want to punish them. That would be absurd," Valls said. "But Europe needs clarity. Either they leave or they stay in the union."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who resigned after leading the unsuccessful "Remain" campaign in the referendum, said he would leave the invocation of EU Article 50 formally launching the two-year negotiating period to his successor, who is expected to take office after a Conservative Party leadership contest within the next three months.
Britain's referendum outcome echoed euroscepticism growing across much of the continent, including in France where the far-right National Front cheered the Brexit and renewed its call for a popular vote on France's EU membership.
Valls, though, rejected the idea of a French referendum.
"Of course we have to let people have their say. But let's be clear: a referendum is not the way to sort out a problem."