By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain cannot expect even informal talks with the European Union before it has notified the bloc of its intention to leave, European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday.
But she said in a Reuters interview that London can expect a fair deal that neither rewards nor punishes it for leaving.
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Britain is not expected to begin its formal divorce from the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this year, leaving a gap of six months or more during which London might seek to sound out its options with Brussels.
"It's not possible because to negotiate even informally about the way forward there has to be clarity on the pathway the UK would choose," Georgieva, one of seven Commission vice-presidents, said.
"I don't see how we can sit and discuss hypotheticals on a matter of such importance," she said, adding that pre-negotiations could wrongly influence Britain's choice.
Georgieva, a Bulgarian who in charge of the EU budget, said negotiations would be tough, but leave all parties with a sense of fairness. Britain should also not be punished - or rewarded.
"I don't want people to stay in the European Union because they are afraid of punishment if they leave. I want them to stay because in the Union they're stronger," she said.
Britain's net contribution to the EU was around 5 billion euros ($5.5 billion), excluding customs duties but including funds received by poorer regions or universities for research.
The figure was not negligible, Georgieva said, but could be managed.
Georgieva said support for the European Union had grown by 10-12 percentage points since the UK referendum.
"Post-Brexit vote support for the European Union jumped 10-12 percentage points. Why? Because people now look into the future and say we want to stick together," she said, adding this improved sentiment would not last forever.
The next couple months represented a window of opportunity to "step on the pedal" of reform.
One message from the Brexit referendum showed a sizeable class of people left behind by a changing economy.
She said social safety nets, which covered people while they waited for the same jobs to reappear, should be replaced by "social safety ropes" to help people find new roles.
Georgieva, who worked for the World Bank for more than a decade, said the EU also had to recognize that not all wanted "more EU" and also needed to forge a greater sense of unity, whether by cutting red tape or giving nations a bit more space.
"When there is a problem it's Brussels, when there is success it is the national capital. This finger-pointing has to stop because who is the European Union? It's all of us."
($1 = 0.9081 euros)
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)