EU leaders seek unity as Britain heads for the exit

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BRUSSELS – Leaders of the European Union agreed the outlines on Friday of a common accord to rally popular and political support for a bloc wracked with division and self-doubt in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave.

At a summit in Brussels, diplomats said the 27 leaders tried to put behind them a furious row with Poland that had disrupted proceedings the previous day and handed guidelines to their staffs to prepare a solemn declaration of unity which they will all sign in Rome on the bloc’s 60th birthday in two weeks time.

Poland’s vain lone battle to block a second term for summit chair Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier and arch-foe of the current ruling party leader, was symptomatic of growing friction between the west and poorer, ex-communist east as Brexit leaves a hole in EU subsidy budgets.

But people in the room said Prime Minister Beata Szydlo took pains to be polite and cooperative after Thursday’s sharp exchanges with the likes of French President Francois Hollande, who had effectively accused her of ingratitude for EU grants to Poland. “She was a different person today,” one diplomat said.

Tusk, who promised to try and heal his personal rift with his successors in Warsaw, said: “The attitude was much more constructive.” The atmosphere was, he said, even “optimistic”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who dismissed accusations from a Polish minister that the EU was run by “German diktat”, was more measured but concluded: “We are united in diversity.”

Merkel faces a eurosceptic challenge at a September election, and Hollande will step down after an election next month where far-right leader Marine Le Pen is set to make a strong showing.

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