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Benelux wants to discuss EU future with central, eastern Europe

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel (L-R) arrive together at a European Union leaders' summit in Brussels, Belgium March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, the so-called Benelux countries, invited Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia for talks in the Netherlands on the future of the European Union, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

EU leaders are to meet in Rome on March 25 to celebrate the EU’s 60th anniversary and chart a way forward for the bloc after Britain decided last year to leave it and there is rising euro-sceptic sentiment in many European countries.

Standing together with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Rutte told reporters the three Benelux countries wanted to play a positive role in shaping the future of the EU.

“We have decided to invite the members of the Visegrad countries to come to the Netherlands to have a meeting jointly with the Benelux and later this year we will also have a meeting with the three Baltic countries, also to discuss the future of the European Union,” Rutte said.

The Visegrad countries are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

The Benelux invitation follows a clash on Thursday between Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and the other 27 leaders of the EU over the re-appointment of Donald Tusk for another term as chairman of EU summits, which Warsaw vehemently opposed.

“We are pulling together and are contacting the Visegrad countries and the Baltic states to say we are stronger together even if it is not that easy sometimes,” Luxembourg’s Bettel said.

Reporting By Jan Strupczewski and Robert-Jan Bartunek