Donald Tusk is the first politician from the “new Europe” to lead one of the most important EU institutions – writes Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska
Why Donald Tusk is a benefit for Europe
by Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska
“The son of the great Polish nation. From now on, he will take care of our great union” as a father. These are the words of Herman Van Rompuy welcoming his successor Donald Tusk at a handover ceremony in Brussels on December 1. Who could have envisaged ten years ago, when Poland joined the EU, that this country would deliver the president of the European Council?
Donald Tusk is the first politician from the “new Europe” to lead one of the most important EU institutions. As president of the European Council, his job is to negotiate deals between 28 leaders of the EU. Obviously many Poles are proud. They see it as a recognition of the successful transition of their country and some as a stepping stone for Poland to become a European leader.
Poland’s journey to Europe’s core rests largely on its economic success. Poland has changed profoundly during the last seven years under the leadership of Donald Tusk. Helped by large amounts of EU cash, Poland has become an economic heavy weight in Europe.
Tusk’s arrival in Brussels heralds a qualitative change, marking the move of Poland to the heart of Europe.
Some already take a lead. Like the Flemish university KU Leuven. The university authorities envisage ample job opportunities for translators, interpreters and communication specialists with knowledge of the Polish language. Hence the spectacular decision to start from September 2015 a Polish language course at the campus in Brussels. “With the appointment of Donald Tusk as the President of the European Council, the importance of the Polish language will be still rising”, is the reasoning.
Donald Tusk personifies the new Poland. However in his homeland he was a quite unordinary politician, very pragmatic, effective, but also modest and focused on achieving compromise. He showed empathy and gained sympathy, and nevertheless had the guts to take ruthless but necessary decisions. Behind these qualifications lies a clever politician who considers his steps carefully to achieve his primary goals. A strategist with tactical ingenuity. Overall, an atypical Pole.
Mr Tusk is also “a convinced and convincing European” as Angela Merkel repeatedly emphasized. She said the same thing in 2010 at the presentation of the prestigious Charlemagne Prize to Tusk, then Poland’s prime minister, for his contribution to European integration. Tusk is part of an illustrious line-up that includes Winston Churchill, Jean Monnet, Queen Beatrix and Helmut Kohl.
Like Angela Merkel, Tusk has been shaped post war history and Poland’s relationship with Russia. Unlike Merkel, he discovered a political vocation at the early age of 14. In December 1970 Tusk was an eyewitness to the protests of shipyard workers in Gdansk, which were forcibly nipped in the bud by police and tanks. I myself was there too, two years younger than Tusk. Where I saw repression, he saw freedom. An eye-opener for him was the discovery of a public space where citizens can demand freedom and their rights. “I felt solidarity through and through with the workers,” he wrote years later.
As an activist of the underground movement Solidarity he had to overcome his fear and show Zivilcourage. The experience gained at the time of Solidarity, starting from the moral victory in 1980 to the actual victory in 1989, have shaped him. He draws to this day his strength and inspiration from that experience.
Already then – in the dark years of communism – Tusk showed his open mind and progressivity. As a history graduate, he was plunged into a new realm of economic liberalism and the ideas of Hayek and Von Mises. These were totally uncharted waters in communist Poland. By introducing free market and private property, he wanted to overcome communism in Poland. Together with a small group of liberals from Gdansk (including Janusz Lewandowski, former EU Budget Commissioner), he led the way to the establishment of the Liberal Congress. All this in Poland with no end of communist rule in sight.
Tusk’s passion is foremost Poland, anchored in a strong Europe. At first he dreamed of Europe as an instrument to discipline Poland to complete the transition. Afterwards it meant EU cash which Tusk as Prime Minister decisively managed to winkle out from Brussels to modernize Polish infrastructure. But the euro crisis threw a spanner in his works: a collapse of the eurozone could have derailed his project.
Anno 2014 things are again different. Europe is for Tusk, now more than ever, a safe haven against Russian imperialism. A part of this strategy entails an energy union, an idea Tusk launched in April this year to decrease dependency on Russian gas and hence diminish political impact of Putin’s divide et impera on Europe.
The re-emergence of geopolitics in Europe was very conducive to his appointment. The annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine made it urgent to involve the member states in the East. But Donald Tusk is a pragmatist and Poland has also learned a recent lesson: Alleingang on Ukraine does not pay off. In this respect, to be effective Poland must act through Brussels on the basis of solidarity and unity, his successor as prime minister Ewa Kopacz said unambiguously.
“Politics has returned to Europe. History is back,” said Donald Tusk on December 1 in Brussels. He repeated three words well-proved in Poland: solidarity, freedom and unity. By doing so, he refered the present to the fundamental European values, which must be protected against threats from within and outside Europe, the Euro-sceptics and enemies of the EU.
The challenges ahead of the divided and stagnant EU and thus for the President of the European Council, are enormous. Donald Tusk certainly is going to come into conflict with his homeland. Most recently, an allegation was circulating in Warsaw of a deal closed with British prime minister David Cameron to avoid Brexit at the expense of Polish migrant workers.
Donald Tusk will certainly do everything to breathe new life into the European Union. Tusk has a strong sense of purpose and wants to build on a strong leadership, particularly on foreign affairs. But time will tell whether he gets the space to deliver on his life-time project. Tusk has often said his top priority is the preservation of unity of the EU. With this he serves Polish interests at best, too.
Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska (born in Gdansk), is an economist and Polish-Dutch journalist, editor of Polonia.nl, website of the Polish community in the Netherlands
– Wydawca portalu: STEP – Stowarzyszenie Ekspertów Polskich w Holandii. Czytaj o nas
Prosimy o przekazywanie informacji o ważnych wydarzeniach w Holandii. Wyślij nam maila z tekstem (co-gdzie-kiedy), najlepiej ze zdjęciem, zamieścimy na portalu! Adres redakcji firstname.lastname@example.org