Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

  • 'Under no circumstances, we can give away the sphere of security and order to political populists, manipulators, and autocrats, who lead people to believe that freedom cannot be reconciled with security,' Tusk said (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU's largest political party's congress gathered in Zagreb on Wednesday (20 November) to nominate outgoing EU Council president Donald Tusk as their new president - as Poland's former prime minister was the only candidate for the position.

With new leadership, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) said it was ready to work on a concrete political strategy to tackle the challenges of the EU's enlargement process and climate change - the two main concerns of the political group at their congress, amid their unfinished battle against Hungary's ruling party Fidesz.

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"I am ready to fight" for Christian-Democratic European values and against populism, said Tusk.

"I deeply believe that only those who want and are able to give people a feeling of safety and security, preserving at the same time their freedoms and rights, have a mandate to run for power," he added.

Tusk will replace French former MEP Joseph Daul, who led the EPP since the end of 2013. Tusk's current mandate in Brussels finishes at the end of this month.

"Electing a new leader will also mean a new era for the EPP group. We need to stick to our values and adapt to the next generations," said Daul.

"Tusk will do a great job with the experience he has at both national and European level," said prime minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković.

One of the first challenges for Tusk as the president of the EPP will the final decision about the membership of Hungary's ruling party, Fidesz, which was suspended from the political group in March - following a backlash over rule of law in Hungary.

Tusk is a notable opponent of Hungary's biggest European ally, Poland's governing Law and Justice party, which makes him more likely to adopt a tougher tone with Fidesz than the outgoing Daul did.

"Under no circumstances, we can give away the sphere of security and order to political populists, manipulators, and autocrats, who lead people to believe that freedom cannot be reconciled with security," Tusk said.

Last year, the European Parliament triggered a sanctions procedure against the Hungarian government for being in "clear risk" of seriously breaching EU rules and values, creating much unease within the EPP, which counts Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU among its ranks.

Ultimately, the EPP decided to suspend the party membership and call on Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban to meet certain conditions to remain in the party.

'Wise Men' delay

Following the suspension, the EPP appointed a group of 'wise men' - led by former EU council president Herman Van Rompuy - to monitor and evaluate if the Hungarian government party complies with the EPP's conditions.

Plenković said that despite the original plan for the evaluation committee assessing the Hungarian governing party to release its report by October, the wise men will give their opinion "very soon".

Once this assessment is shared with the rest of the EPP members, the political group will analyse the results and make a final decision.

However, Tusk's position seems clear at this stage.

"We will not sacrifice values like civil liberties, the rule of law, and decency in public life on the altar of security and order, because there is simply no need. Because they don't exclude one another," Tusk said - adding that whoever is unable to accept that would be outside the EPP family.

Fidesz was not invited to the European centre-right party's congress in Zagreb.

Enlargement

Another of the main topics discussed in Zagreb was the EPP's position on EU enlargement.

During the last EU summit, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands blocked enlargement talks with two Balkan countries, North Macedonia and Albania, in what was considered a "historic error" by senior EU officials - including Tusk.

"Failing to decide about North Macedonia and Albania is a great disappointment, however, I remain an optimist," Tusk told reporters on Tuesday, adding that it was necessary to restore EU unity on enlargement.

Last week, France revealed a "reformed approach to the [EU] accession process" based on a step-by-step method.

However, the Croatian PM pointed out that "the EU enlargement process is based on a really clear legal procedure," adding that member states should distinguish between negotiations and the process that follows.

"The lack of consensus for ascension talks of North Macedonia and Albania was a mistake with repercussion for this region," said EPP secretary-general, Spanish MEP Antonio Lopez Istúriz, adding that this was the position of the whole EPP group.

"There will be no sovereign Europe without a stable Balkan region integrated with the continent. You don't need to be a historian to understand this," Lopez Istúriz added.

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