Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Tusk deplores 'too many leaks' in Brussels

  • The question "is more for Jean-Claude of course," said Tusk (r) after the latest leaks on Trump's comments. (Photo: Consilium)

Leaked comments by Donald Trump, from his meeting with the European Council and Commission leaders on Thursday (25 May), have again raised the question of who in Brussels gives too much sensitive information to the media.

“I don’t want to be part of this new political culture of permanent leaks,” European Council president Donald Tusk told reporters on Friday morning, after being asked to confirm Trump’s comments published by the Spiegel. The German magazine’s website reported on Thursday evening that the US president said Germany was “bad” because it sells “millions of cars” to the US and has a trade surplus.

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Tusk said that there are “too many leaks” about EU leaders’ conversations with other leaders.

“Today’s diplomacy needs professional plumbers rather than indiscreet diplomats,” he added.

The European Council chief seemed to put the blame on the EU commission.

“It’s more for Jean-Claude [Juncker] of course,” he first said, referring to the EU commission president, which triggered a puzzled reaction on Juncker’s face.

Juncker, who was next to Tusk, acknowledged that Trump mentioned Germany’s trade surplus with the US, but he did not confirm or deny that the leak came from his institution.

He said that it was “not true that the president [Trump] took an aggressive approach when it came to the German trade surplus”, and that there was a translation problem.

“If someone says the Germans are bad, that doesn’t mean it can be translated literally,” he noted.

“Das war nicht böse [it was not evil],” he added in German, referring to the headline of the Spiegel’s article, which used the word “böse", a stronger translation of “bad”, rather than the weaker “schlecht”.

Tusk and Juncker were speaking at a press conference in Taormina, Sicily, ahead of a G7 summit for wealthy nations on Friday and Saturday.

Commission sources told EUobserver on Friday that the leak did not come from their side, while Council sources said they did not know where it came from.

Tusk and Juncker, alongside their closest aides, were not the only two EU leaders in the meeting. They were also accompanied by European Parliament president Antonio Tajani and EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini and their aides – all of whom also took part in Thursday’s meeting at some point.

The controversy over the Trump leak comes less than a month after another leaked story was published by another German media outlet.

After a dinner in London – between UK prime minister Theresa May, Juncker, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, as well as May and Juncker’s cabinet chiefs – the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an account saying that the meeting had been a “disaster”.

As only five people were in the room, Juncker’s powerful German head of cabinet, Martin Selmayr, was widely suspected of being the source for the leak, which May described as “Brussels gossip”.

Discretion needed

Asked about the source of the London dinner leak, the EU commission's spokesman said at the time that the EU executive “never comments on reports, comments, leaks or alleged leaks”.

In a comment that was considered to be directed at the commission, Tusk said that “discretion, moderation, mutual respect and a maximum of good will” were needed to make Brexit negotiations a success.

He noted that “negotiations are difficult enough … If we start arguing before they even begin, they will become impossible.”

Thursday’s leak about Germany's trade surplus comes amid the increasingly sensitive issue of trade relations between the EU and the US.

Trump, Tusk and Juncker agreed at their meeting to start a working group to discuss bilateral and global trade issues. Meanwhile, the EU is calling on the Trump administration to respect multilateral trade rules.

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