28th Oct 2016

Polish leader raises alarm about 'new' euroscepticism

  • Tusk (r) and Orban in Warsaw on Friday. 'The European Union is fantastic', the Polish leader declared (Photo:

The financial crisis and Arab Spring migrants have given rise to a "new euroscepticism" inside the union, Polish leader Donald Tusk has warned as Poland takes over the EU presidency.

Contrasting a new breed of hypocrisy with the old "ideological" EU-pessimism in the UK, Tusk said continental leaders have begun aggressively protecting national interests despite their pro-EU rhetoric.

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"The union is going through one of the most difficult and complicated moments in its history," he told press at an event in Warsaw on Friday (1 July). "When I speak of a new euroscepticism, I am not talking about traditional euroscepticism as in [the UK] ... I am talking about the birth of a phenomenon which does not declare itself. I mean the behaviour of politicians who say they support the EU and further integration but at the same time take steps that weaken the union."

Tusk declined to name names, but he pointed to France and Italy in his criticism of fresh border restrictions in the passport-free Schengen zone after Tunisian migrants began crossing the Mediterranean en masse.

With Germany initially voicing opposition to the second Greek bail-out, he added that there is a lack of financial solidarity in the union.

"People are saying to one another: 'You're inadequate. You should leave the EU. You shoud leave the euro.' I see such tedencies and I believe the right path is the opposite one ... I am convinced that what the EU needs is further integration," he said.

He noted that Poles do not see joint economic governance or externally-imposed austerity programmes, as in Greece, as a threat: "We lived for many years as a non-sovereign country, under Soviet occupation. For us European integration is not a threat to sovereignty because we experienced not long ago a serious threat to our sovereignty."

With surveys saying that 80 percent of Poles favour EU membership, Tusk spoke of Polish "energy" and pro-EU feeling as an antidote to the new malaise: "The European Union is fantastic. It is the best place on earth where you can be born and live your life."

Despite dropping hints about fellow EU leaders' negative behaviour, Tusk signalled he will take a non-confrontational approach over the coming six months.

He declined to criticise France and Germany for cooking up eurozone reforms at a meeting in Deauville, France earlier this year. "There is no point in being upset that France and Germany are so big, but we must make sure they do not exploit their size in an inappropriate way," he said.

And he did not insist on proposals for the Polish finance minister to sit-in on meetings of the euro-using countries in Brussels, joking "I don't want to force my way into someone else's house."

The Polish presidency was launched on a rainy Friday in Warsaw with a VIP gala attended by outgoing EU presidency leader, Hungary's Viktor Orban, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy.

The government also put on four music concerts and put up little EU flags and billboards on some main streets.

Barroso at the gala echoed Tusk's remarks about the importance of Polish EU "enthusiasm" while Orban gave a rousing ode to Poland's defeat of Communism and its role in European reunification.

Poland's relationship with the EU is perhaps less rosy than the VIPs made out, however.

Other surveys say most young Poles do not know what the EU presidency is. And Polish appetite to join the eurozone has waned: just 42 percent of Poles now support euro-entry compared to a clear majority before the crisis.

Meanwhile, in the run-up to 1 July, Tusk opened himself to charges of the same egoism he diagnosed among his peers when Poland blocked an EU move toward deeper cuts in CO2 emissions in order to protect its national coal sector.

"This [kind of] approach can prove a threat to Europe as a whole," Kuba Gogolewski, an eviornmental campaigner with CEE Bankwatch Network, commented on the move.

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