Donald Tusk spoke out after a long silence – that some commentators in Brussels caustically described as a hibernation – and in view of the “informal” summit scheduled for Sept 19-20 in Salzburg reprimanded London on Brexit, scolded populist governments determined to exploit the migratory crisis for electoral gains and set a couple of extraordinary summits. Beyond doubt,
owing to his long-standing political experience, Tusk realized that the thorns in the flesh of the EU are building up, that European citizens are rightfully expecting solutions, while European Parliament elections will be in May 2019, and time is running short.
“The Brexit negotiations are entering their decisive phase. Various scenarios – he declared somewhat emphatically – are still possible today, but I would like to stress that some of Prime Minister May’s proposals from Chequers indicate a positive evolution in the UK’s approach as well as a will to minimise the negative effects of Brexit” (a well-pondered blow!)
Whilst mastering diplomatic language, the European Council President skilfully launched a scathing attack: “By this I mean, among other things, the readiness”, shown by the UK, “to cooperate closely in the area of security and foreign policy.” On other issues, “such as the Irish question, or the framework for economic cooperation, the UK’s proposals will need to be reworked and further negotiated.” In other words: the May Government will need to reschedule.
In his remarks ahead of the summit Tusk pointed out:
“ Today there is perhaps more hope, but there is surely less and less time. At tomorrow’s meeting I will propose calling an additional summit around mid-November” in order to finalize the negotiations with London.
Theresa May – who is losing political ground in her home Country – sent a perplexing message that revolves around the Irish border: “Neither side can demand the unacceptable of the other.” By now London has clearly understood that Brexit is bound to deliver no good bargain, that the island will be even more isolated. Indeed, reaching an agreement with the EU is necessary, but May is hoping that it will happen without losing face and without the collapse of the conservative government that is pulling the strings of the negotiations for the British side, with growing discontent in Parliament and throughout the Country.
As relates to migration inflows Tusk said: “Despite the aggressive rhetoric, things are moving in the right direction.” Also yesterday he tactfully – yet firmly – criticised those governments that are unwilling to deliver a common response to the migration crisis. The results obtained so far, he explained, are “mostly because we have been focused on external border control and cooperation with third countries, which has brought down the number of irregular migrants from almost 2 million in 2015 to fewer than 100.000 this year.” All considered, external borders and cooperation are useful and shared decisions, but not when it comes to the redistribution of migrants, of welcoming refugees or as regards the reform of asylum rules …
Tusk thus exhorted: “instead of taking political advantage of the situation, we should focus on what works and just get on with it. We can no longer be divided into those who want to solve the problem of illegal migrant flows, and those who want to use it for political gain.”
Tusk concluded: “Tonight, I will ask” EU heads of Government and State “for support for our efforts to intensify cooperation with North African countries and the idea of calling an EU-League of Arab States summit in Egypt in February next year. The next 24 hours will determine whether or not Member States’ governments intend to close the ranks or whether they want to continue following the path of “popular” but pointless nationalisms.