KRAKOW, Poland — Vladimir Putin’s Russia represents a major threat to the unity of the European Union, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk said Saturday.
Tusk used his speech at a conference on the future of the European Union to express concern about Russia’s attempts to influence the direction of politics in Europe, and said Sunday’s election in Latvia could provide a clear signal that strategy is working.
“Our problem is Russia, which is undermining whatever it can undermine in Europe,” Tusk told the conference, hosted by the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków in southern Poland. “I can provide numerous examples to prove that Russians will not refrain from any means to weaken European unity.”
Stating he was “anxious” about the result of Latvia’s national election, Tusk said it could “be a turning point for that region — a moment which was planned in the Kremlin and not in Europe.” The latest polls show the pro-Russian Harmony party is poised to win the biggest share of votes.
Tusk also referenced “very clear traces of Russia’s engagement in the Brexit referendum campaign” and in Catalonia’s conflict with Madrid, and cited the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and the cyberattack on the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons as examples of unwelcome interference.
“There are people who think that Europe’s demise is inevitable and unluckily they have quite a lot of arguments to support this thesis” — Donald Tusk
Tusk claimed he has no “anti-Russian obsession,” but said: “If there is somewhere whose main political priority is to disintegrate Europe, this certainly is Russia.”
Meanwhile, Tusk warned fellow EU leaders not to “fool” themselves over the state of relations between Europe and the United States.
“Never before in my life has America been a problem for Europe,” Tusk said. “What happened under the administration of my namesake Donald Trump is a new phenomenon — America is sailing away from Europe today and it is intentional.”
The 46-minute speech, delivered in the old town area of Kraków, was designed to defend the European project, beginning with a declaration that it’s “the most beautiful political undertaking in Europe’s history.”
“There are people who think that Europe’s demise is inevitable and unluckily they have quite a lot of arguments to support this thesis,” he said, citing Brexit as an example.
But Tusk asked leaders to refrain from “fatalistic thinking” over the migration crisis, despite the fact it remains a focal point for disagreements between governments. “This huge migration of peoples doesn’t have to bring negative consequences for the EU,” he said, arguing the deal with Turkey to limit immigration to the bloc is working.
“There will be fewer illegal crossings on all European borders in 2018 than there were before the migration crisis,” he said. “One can cope with the problem without a mouthful of nationalistic slogans and this nauseating rhetoric.”
Protecting rule of law
Amid tension between Poland’s government and the EU over reform to the country’s judiciary, Tusk used the speech in his homeland to make reference to the fundamental values of the EU.
“What is a liberal democracy? Simple: it is the rule of law, respect of rights of the weak by the stronger, it is the freedom of speech, it is a precise and definitive division between the judiciary and the executive,” he said.
He caveated his words should not be interpreted as an attack on Poland’s government, but cautioned: “This set of rules is not given once and for ever — it is something very fragile and unique.”
“We have to be united as Poles in Europe” — Donald Tusk
He said Europe “cannot become a union of conflicts” in which the victors are the “most aggressive” or “those for whom law and constitution mean the unbearable limitations and corsets,” adding: “I am convinced that in the interest of Poles and Poland is to protect Europe from such scenarios.”
After the speech Tusk took a stroll around Kraków’s picturesque Old Square.
With Poland preparing for local elections in two weeks, Tusk told the crowd: “We have to be united as Poles in Europe … We need to shake each other’s hand and remember that a simple reconciliation between Poles is a requirement of the moment.”