domingo, 12 de junho de 2016
Donald Tusk wants to bury the European Dream / Criticism of EU-topia is now socially acceptable.
Donald Tusk wants to bury the European Dream
Criticism of EU-topia is now socially acceptable.
By JACOPO BARIGAZZI 6/13/16, 5:28 AM CET
Europe is coming around to Donald Tusk’s way of thinking.
The European Council president has been spreading a message that until recently would have sounded surprisingly Euroskeptic coming from the head of an EU institution: We need to let go of the “European” dream — at least as it has usually been defined since the founding of the Union.
But rather than provoke outrage, Tusk’s position is largely being accepted as the new EU reality, even by stalwart European integrationists who now admit that the answer to every problem is not “More Europe.”
In 18 months on the job, the former Polish prime minister has managed a subtle but significant shift in the EU’s political center of gravity on a range of issues facing the bloc, from the migration and Greek bailout crises to coping with the rise of “populist,” anti-EU politicians in several countries. The balance of influence has moved from west to east, from idealism to pragmatism, from the European Commission’s headquarters in the Berlaymont to Tusk’s base, across the street, in the Council’s Justus Lipsius building.
In a remarkable series of speeches, a newly emboldened Tusk has taken aim at what he portrayed as a European reflex for “confronting reality with all kinds of utopias.” His rhetorical assault on the idea of European integration as a cure-all — arguably the governing religion of the EU for several decades — reached a crescendo in an address in Brussels earlier this month, when Tusk blamed “lyrical and in fact naïve Euro-enthusiastic visions of total integration” for “the strengthening of Euroskeptic moods” across the continent.
“This is what it’s all about — looking in very practical terms to what can be achieved” — Pierre Vimont, French diplomat
Sources familiar with Tusk’s thinking say his recent remarks are part of longer-term effort to stifle the EU’s “More Europe” reflex, which has largely backfired in the response to the migration crisis. The speeches were also a way to try to indirectly influence national politics — not just in the U.K., where the “Brexit” debate is now at full boil, but also in countries such as the Netherlands and France, where anti-EU forces continue to gain ground.
“This very down-to-earth approach that President Tusk is taking now in this whole migration issue I think is something rather welcome in Paris but also in many other capitals at the moment, because this is what it’s all about — looking in very practical terms to what can be achieved,” said Pierre Vimont, a veteran diplomat and former chief of staff to three French foreign ministers.
Time to hit ‘pause’
Vimont is not alone. Hubert Védrine, another longtime French politician and former foreign minister, said in an interview recently that Europe needs a “pause.” On Friday Jeroen Dijsselbloem, finance minister for another core European country, the Netherlands, called for an end to EU expansion, saying that Europe had grown so quickly that “decision making has become more difficult.” Dutch voters in April overwhelmingly rejected a proposed EU deal with Ukraine in a referendum that was seen as a proxy vote on the European project as a whole.
Even Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who pushed an ambitious EU migration policy that emphasized the sharing of the burden across all EU countries only to see it coopted and watered down by Tusk in a series of difficult summits over the past year, has acknowledged the shift.
At a 40th anniversary celebration of the European People’s Party, the same event where Tusk talked of unrealistic “utopias,” Juncker admitted that Brussels needed to make room for differences of opinion in Europe. “Not everyone who does not agree with certain aspects of the European refugee policy and the proposals made by the Commission is a populist,” he said, allowing that there were “sometimes good reasons to question proposals.”
“Tusk is trying to find the right balance between the different groups in the European Council, between the staunch supporters of European integration and those who would be either more skeptical or more cautious about moving ahead,” said Vimont, now a senior associate at Carnegie Europe, a think tank.
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: European Council President Donald Tusk addresses delegates at the 'Thermatic Pledging Session' at the 'Supporting Syria Conference' at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on February 4, 2016 in London, England. World leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will gather for the 4th annual donor conference in an attempt to raise £6.2bn GBP to those affected by the war in Syria. (Photo
Some of this recent “whoa, Europe” talk can be attributed to calculated politics ahead of a referendum in Britain in less than two weeks’ time. British Euroskepticism is only part of a problem affecting the whole bloc. Poll data from across Europe published last week show rising levels of discontent with EU policy — higher even in France than in Britain — and a growing desire to shift power back from Brussels to national capitals.
Tusk came to Brussels in November 2014 as an outsider who didn’t speak Eurocrat-ese and showed little interest in learning it (as opposed to English, which he picked up quickly). In his early moves as Council president, Tusk often seemed ill at ease in the Brussels milieu so comfortably occupied by Juncker, and was accused during often testy summit meetings throughout 2015 of being too pro-Eastern Europe. But his recent speeches to mainstream EU audiences have shown Tusk more confident in his role as Euro-realist.
Tusk’s recent shout-out to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, whom he said had as valid a position on migration as Angela Merkel, was especially revealing. The Hungarian prime minister has been treated in some European political circles as a pariah among EU leaders for his hard-line stance on migration and on civil liberties.
Now Orbán can openly boast that his position is in the EU mainstream. That’s thanks in no small part to Tusk, who pushed shifting the EU’s focus in the migration debate away from distributing refugees around Europe and instead focusing on keeping them from getting to Europe.
Not that everyone has abandoned the European dream altogether. Politicians in France, Germany and Italy continue to push for increased European integration, at least among a core of committed countries, and there is persistent talk that Germany is waiting for after the U.K. referendum to push plans for a European army.
“In 2015 we were labeled as European outcasts, but now what we were saying is mainstream” — Tomas Prouza
Some diplomats and officials said Tusk’s recent comments also show how an oft-quoted belief of one of Europe’s funding fathers, Jean Monnet, that “Europe will be forged in crises,” has been upended by the migration issue. Juncker’s initial push to deal with the exodus of asylum-seekers by forcing EU countries to accept the relocation of 160,000 refugees, has been largely rejected or ignored despite several attempts to reframe it. As of June 9 only 2,195 refugees had been relocated from Italy and Greece.
Juncker “made a psychological mistake when he made his proposal,” said Jean De Ruyt, a former permanent representative of Belgium to the EU. “My feeling at that time was that member states did not recognize his legitimacy in proposing that because, not a long time ago, this was not a Community competence, they still think is not a domain of the Commission.”
Tusk turned that argument around, putting national governments — even the eastern European ones — back in charge of the migration debate. The focus, even on the part of the Commission, is now on keeping migrants out. A proposal to create a European border control and coast guard is on an EU fast track, something diplomats said would have been unthinkable of only until a couple of years ago.
Tusk is seen as instrumental in shifting the EU’s attention.
“In 2015 we were labeled as European outcasts,” Tomas Prouza, the Czech Republic’s Europe minister, told EUobserver last week, “but now what we were saying is mainstream.”