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Angela Merkel has stressed the EU should keep the door open to further enlargement as she warned the bloc would “have to find answers to complicated questions” as it plots a course forward from Brexit.

“We do not want to isolate ourselves from our neighbourhood,” she told a conference of Europe’s centre right leaders in Malta.

“It means that, for the countries of the western Balkans, we give them a prospect of becoming members of the European Union in steps and we can’t say it’s too complicated now with 27 or 28 member states.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has raised the prospect of renewed conflict and war in the western Balkans should the EU disintegrate.

She also stressed that the EU would uphold Ukraine’s “territorial integrity which cannot be violated.”

Ms Merkel, who highlighted the building of a digital single market as one priority for future EU integration, said:

We must make an effort for this Europe, because we love it, and we want to leave it behind in good condition for future generations.

Speaking in Berlin, her foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned against confrontation in the coming Brexit negotiations, in the latest signal that Berlin is taking a conciliatory line in the wake of Britain’s launch of the exit process.

“We must stay friends,” said Mr Gabriel during a Brexit debate in the German parliament.

He added, there was little point in managing the negotiation so that “in the end a totally ruined and hostile relationship emerges between us”.

But, along with other Bundestag members, he emphasised the interests of the 3m EU citizens in the UK had to come first.

“As important as economic relations, the legal status and the interests of the citizens of Europe in the UK must, above all else, be secured,” said Mr Gabriel.

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