23rd Sep 2023

Tusk extols pragmatism in EU affairs

  • "Step-by-step action is a fine European tradition," the EU Council president said. (Photo: Consillium)

European Council president Donald Tusk warned Monday (7 September) against EU "revolutionary thinking" and "the dreams and visions of ultra-European ideologists", while recommending that the bloc's focus remains "on how to strengthen the Union in its current framework".

Tusk spoke at the at the Bruegel think tank's annual dinner in Brussels, just one day before a State of the Union address of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

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He set out a vision of a pragmatic and cautious EU, opposing federalists as well as eurosceptics.

"Step-by-step action is a fine European tradition," he said. "This is why I prefer evolution to revolution and that is how our community was built".

Though he did not mention Britain and its prime minister David Cameron, Tusk appeared to close the door to British demands for EU reform through treaty change.

"Instead of revolutionary thinking and sudden systemic changes, for instance, big treaty changes, we should use every possibility to improve and correct the current system. Most importantly, we should try and apply the rules and principles existing today with greater determination and engagement", he said.


Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, also tried to strike a balance over the migration crisis, which is increasingly becoming a divisive issue between member states.

"The two approaches of solidarity and containment need not be mutually exclusive", he said.

"It would be unforgivable if Europe split into advocates of containment symbolised by the Hungarian fence, and advocates of full openness voiced by some politicians as the policy of open doors and windows".

Although "we should not feel ashamed of our emotions", Europe must stay pragmatic, Tusk said.

"We are now experiencing one of the most classical political dilemmas, that is a conflict between the protection of our borders and solidarity towards the refugees".

"Wise politics doesn't mean having to choose one value over the other, but to reconcile the two to the degree possible. In this case pragmatism should be the First Commandment", he added, in a reference to Christian doctrine.

As one of the authors of the "five presidents' report" on the future of the economic and monetary union, Tusk also recommended "politically realistic" solutions to strengthen the EU's economic architecture.

He outlined three elements that required special attention: "a proper European deposit insurance scheme; a true capital markets' union, and a euro area system of competitiveness authorities."


Tusk, who became European Council president last December, has sometimes been criticised for his low-profile approach to his position.

On Monday, for instance, the leader of the European Parliament's Liberal group, Guy Verhofstadt, slammed him for not attending Juncker's State of the Union and a parliamentary debate on migration on Wednesday.

Tusk will instead be in Israel for an official visit.

It is "unacceptable that Tusk refuses to do his job", Verhofstadt said. "It is incomprehensible to me that Tusk doesn't seem to understand he has a key role to play in solving this crisis."

In his Bruegel speech, Tusk defended his views of politics and the EU.

"We all know that beautiful ideas, in particular the idea of progress, the better they sound the more destructive potential they may have", he said.

"As a historian and a man with a painful personal experience of ideological experiments - I lived under a Communist regime for the first half of my life - I am driven by very firm convictions in this regard".

"Life has also taught me that values are more important than ideologies, while realistic pragmatism is more important than utopian visions", he added

Declaring his "allegiance to liberal democracy, the free market and a political philosophy founded on common sense and moderation", Tusk said he is ready "to protect Europe the way she is now … without a strong ideology, diverse and very difficult to govern, with her never-ending negotiations."

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