Donald Tusk has commenced his term as president of the European Council in December 2014. To mark the 4th anniversary of his appointment, gazeta.pl has surveyed analysts to assess Tusk’s performance. WiseEuropa’s Wojciech Białożyt contributed to the survey, below is the English translation of his contribution. The survey is available in full (in Polish): http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/56,114884,24238154,jakim-prezydentem-europy-byl-donald-tusk-eksperci-oceniaja.html
The biggest success
Maintaining European unity. From the beginning of Donald Tusk’s term, the European Union has faced a series of subsequent crisis – the prospect of Greece’s exit from the Eurozone, the uncontrolled inflow of refugees to Europe, negotiations with David Cameron and the Brexit referendum, rule of law problem in Poland, successes of populists in many European countries and an election of Donald Trump – all of them were undermining the cohesion of the Community. Donald Tusk has successfully navigated between the diverse priorities of individual member states and groups of countries and contributed to preventing the deepening of splits among member countries in all these matters.
The biggest failure
Migration policy of the European Union. While several years have passed since the outbreak of the migration crisis and the wave of refugees dropped significantly in recent time, the migration policy does not cease to trigger conflicts among member countries and to fuel the support of populist movements. Donald Tusk contributed to the reduction of tensions in particularly sensitive issue of refugee relocation and has influenced the EU to focus more on the protection of its external borders. However, the EU remains poorly prepared for the potential future inflows of refugees – it is a failure of the Union and its leaders and an issue that may threaten the unity and even the existence of the EU in the future.
Donald Tusk gave a larger political format to the post of the President of the European Council, going beyond the bureaucratic-neutral frames that characterized his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy. He has been speaking up on issues unpopular to the Brussels bureaucracy ears – Tusk flagged an insufficient protection of the Union’s borders from the uncontrolled inflow of refugees and a possible disintegration of the Union in the wake of the victory of national egoisms in the member countries. He has called to see Brexit as a signal of the exhaustion of Europeans with the performance of the EU and for the empowerment of the capitals in solving the most pressing problems of the EU. He pointed out that Brussels’ tendency to deepen a European integration as a response for a crisis is, at this stage, a grist to the mill of populist movements that accuse the Union of alienating from issues that bother Europeans such as migration issue or a stagnation on the labour markets.
Being in a friendly discord in some of these issues with the President of the European Commission and despite the limited powers of the President of the Council, Donald Tusk gave the political dimension to his position more than his predecessor.
Weaknesses result from the very nature of the post held by Donald Tusk as defined in the Treaty of Lisbon. He coordinates the work of the European Council and represents the EU outside, while executive powers remain in hands of the President of the European Commission leading over 30,000 officials. In spite of giving a larger political profile of its function, the Donald Tusk impact on the direction of European matters is being determined by the limited catalogue of competencies of the President of the Council in relation to the other EU institutions.
Impact on the shape and affairs of the EU
Donald Tusk has repeatedly influenced the direction of European issues – including his role in the negotiations with Greece that enabled it to remain in the Eurozone as well as in negotiations with David Cameron ahead of the UK referendum. He has also managed to influence the Union’s course at migration policy from the relocation of refugees within the EU towards the strengthening of external borders. He played an important role in supporting the Union’s unity in the face of its greatest crisis ever.
Attitude towards Poland
Following the arrival to power of the Law and Justice, Donald Tusk found himself in difficulty witnessing the general retreat of the Polish government from the European policy conducted by all previous governments after 1989, including his own, which in European matters tried to become a “source of European solutions, not problems “, as Radoslaw Sikorski said in his famous speech in Berlin in 2011.
Donald Tusk has been trapped between speaking up about the rule of law problem in Poland and being pointed out by his political opponents as a “traitor to Polish issues”, which adds to the “interference” of European institutions to the Poland’s internal matters.
Donald Tusk remains important figure on the Polish political scene which was proved in 2017 following his re-election at the European Council. After Beata Szydlo government opposed his re-election, the Law and Justice dropped in polls for the first time since the elections in 2015. Donald Tusk remains a symbol of Poland’s pro-European aspirations, and his infrequent and carefully prepared speeches in Poland resonate among the general public.
Donald Tusk has been up to profile of the President of the European Council role in the most challenging moment for the EU ever and being the first representative of the new EU member states in such a high position. He cleverly navigated through successive crises and has been instrumental to coining solutions. His voice has been heard in the most pressing current European issues and on the future of the Union. Upcoming final year of Donald Tusk in the office will be influenced by the European Parliament elections campaign while the populists across the EU are doing better again.