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22nd Oct 2020

Polish leader confronts Denmark over border controls

  • Tusk (2nd from l): 'There is no better advert, when it comes to Poland and to our [EU] presidency ... than these strawberries' (Photo: premier.gov.pl)

Polish leader Donald Tusk has criticised Denmark's new border checks in his maiden speech to the European Parliament under the Polish EU presidency.

"I am against any barriers to internal free movement under the pretext of dealing with migration problems. What Denmark is doing is a concern for anybody who thinks that free movement is going to be restricted even further," he told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday (5 July).

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"History shows, that whenever Europeans believed that the answer to their problems was a rise in nationalism, statism, protectionism - it always ended in catastrophe," he added at a later point in his speech.

Under the EU treaty, the European Commission is tasked with protecting EU laws while the rotating presidency is supposed to act as a neutral broker in negotiations between member states.

Tusk in Warsaw last Friday also came close to accusing French, German and Italian leaders of hypocrisy in their handling of Tunisian migrants and the Greek bailout, as "politicians who say they support the EU ... but at the same time take steps that weaken the union."

Denmark on Tuesday deployed 50 extra customs officers on its German and Swedish borders. Copenhagen says the move is to fight drug trafficking. But most commentators see it as a sop to the increasingly powerful, right-wing Danish People's Party.

For his part, Germany's Jorg-Uwe Hahn, a minister in the Hesse regional authority, said holidaymakers should boycott Denmark. "I can only suggest that people turn right around and holiday in Austria or Poland instead," he told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.

Tusk's pro-EU message was applauded by MEPs from across the political spectrum. "I've always said that you should be in our political group," the Liberal group leader, Guy Verhoftstadt said (Tusk's Civic Platform party sits with the centre-right EPP group).

At a press conference following his speech in plenary, Tusk used a plate of Polish strawberries as a symbol of Poland's "fresh" approach to the union's pessimistic mood.

"There is no better advert, when it comes to Poland and to our [EU] presidency - that is about Poland's freshness and energy - than these strawberries," he said, according to Polish press agency Pap.

The plenary debate was also marked by an ugly exchange between the Polish right-wing opposition Law and Justice party and its left-wing SLD counterpart.

Law and Justice deputy Zbigniew Ziobro accused Tusk of curbing free speech by sacking pro-opposition journalists in state-owned media. SLD member Marek Siwiec recalled that Ziobro, in his previous role as interior minister, organised televised raids by armed Swat teams in an anti-corruption campaign which saw one woman commit suicide.

Cameras showed Tusk holding his face in his hands during the mud-slinging.

"These two or three interventions by Law and Justice eurodeputies are a problem for them, not for me, or for Poland," he later told press.

The original title, which spoke of Danish 'nationalism' was altered at 5.45pm Brussels time on 7 July after the Polish foreign ministry clarified that Tusk's mention of 'nationalism' did not refer directly to Denmark

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