Merkel urges EU to stick together after Brexit talks launched

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[June 20, 2017]  BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday urged the European Union's remaining 27 members to stick together during talks on Britain's exit from the bloc, which began on Monday.

Merkel also said the talks were important for the future of European integration.

Brexit was a setback but election results in the Netherlands and France this year have presented an opportunity to push ahead, Merkel said.

"Let's stay together, let's not divide from each other," she said, with reference to the remaining EU 27.

"This is not just about the exit of Britain, with which we want to remain friends, with which we want to live in a good partnership, but it is also about the future of the European Union," she said at a German industry conference.

"The four freedoms that give us the internal market must not be jeopardized," she said with reference to the EU's freedoms of movement of goods, capital, people, and services. "This will be significant at the exit negotiations."

Merkel said she wanted the talks to be conducted "in a good spirit" and that Britain's position would become evident in the coming months.

"We will of course implement what Britain pitches, but in a way that the interests of the 27 member states are safeguarded."

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the German Industry Day, hosted by the BDI industry association, in Berlin, Germany, June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

At their first meeting in Brussels on Monday, British and EU negotiators agreed on a timetable for the Brexit talks. Both sides stressed their goodwill but acknowledged the task's huge complexity and tight deadline.

Almost a year to the day since British voters decided to leave the EU, the Brexit strategy debate within the UK government has intensified since Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win a snap parliamentary majority in the June 8 ballot.

She had called the early vote herself, saying it was to strengthen her mandate in the Brexit talks.

(Reporting by Paul Carrel and Michelle Martin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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