TALLINN, Estonia – British Prime Minister Theresa May is extending a hand of cooperation to the other 27 European Union leaders, proposing a "new security partnership" intended to survive the divorce proceedings preceding her country's departure from the bloc.
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May offered the prospect of a post-Brexit security partnership as EU leaders were gathered Thursday for a two-day meeting in Estonia and Brexit negotiations were gathering speed following months of inaction and barely concealed quarrels.
"With the largest defense budget in Europe, a far-reaching diplomatic network, world-class security, intelligence and law enforcement services, and our position at the heart of NATO, the U.K.'s role in Europe's defense has never been more vital," May said in a statement issued by her office on Thursday. .
"As we prepare for Brexit, I want to build a bold, new security partnership with the EU. A partnership that reflects our shared history, promotes our common values," she said.
Even though Britain plans to leave the EU by March 29, 2019, May said it cherishes a strong diplomatic and security bond among European nations, as already exemplified in the NATO defense alliance.
"We will continue to work with our NATO allies, our European neighbors and the EU, to support a future partnership of unprecedented breadth and depth," May said.
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At the same time, the other EU nations are planning to build an independent future without its long-recalcitrant member.
Germany and France are in sync on what it will take to strengthen the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier Thursday.
"As far as the proposals are concerned, there is a high degree of agreement between Germany and France, but of course we still have to talk about the details," Merkel said.
French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker set out their visions for the bloc's future in recent days with keynote speeches on reforming the EU to bind it more closely together.
In the past, that idea often was held back by a halfhearted Britain. Brexit has provided a new impetus for the others to move ahead. A summit dinner on Thursday night was the first time EU leaders would make a joint assessment of Juncker and Macron's visions.
The more upbeat tone after this week's divorce negotiations between Britain and the EU was noted by representatives from other EU countries.
"Our future is now so intertwined with Brexit. To talk about Brexit cannot be dissociated from how we will build a future of 27," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders during a briefing Thursday.
Macron offered a way forward on Tuesday during a speech in which he described the EU as too slow, weak and ineffective. He called for a joint budget, shared military force and harmonized taxes.
"He made clear that Germany and France want to work very closely together. I also find the proposals for the harmonization of corporate taxes, for example, and insolvency law between Germany and France positive," Merkel said before heading into a bilateral meeting with Macron.
Juncker, for his part, insisted two weeks ago that the EU's economy was healthier than it has been for more than a decade and ready to move on from Brexit.
May also attended the dinner and planned to outline details of her security partnership there and during a visit to a NATO base on Friday with the leaders of France and Estonia.
Geir Moulson in Berlin and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this story.