Donald Tusk’s Clear Voice

Welcoming to Scotland, the perennial European is not about to leave the political stage.

Even out of office, Donald Tusk is making his voice heard. President of the European Council since 2014, he was reelected by a robust majority in 2017 over the protests of his own increasingly right wing government (which was promptly punished in the polls.)

With European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, he tirelessly represented the EU in the protracted negotiations with skill and good humor. A convinced European, Tusk is credited with maintaining solidarity among the member states, shaping what many predicted would pull the Union apart, to leave it instead, only stronger. The two-term rule meant stepping down in November 2019 – but not retiring from the political stage. 

The Sunday morning after “Brexit Day”, Tusk was interviewed at length by BBC journalist Andrew Marr. A brave thing to do, you could say, particularly following a half hour of a gloating Nigel Farage. 

Marr and Tusk

And Marr hardly gave him a free pass, pressing him first on his meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in May, 2015. Pre-Referendum, Cameron had wanted concessions from the EU on immigration and apparently came back from Brussels thinking, “This is not enough” to change public opinion in the U.K. 

Should Tusk have offered more? Marr asked.  

Tusk shrugged: “This was part of the illusion. It was clear from the beginning it was too much, based on our treaty obligations.” He paused, as if deciding how much to admit. “Frankly, we gave more than we were allowed to give.”

Marr tried again: But isn’t there something wrong with the EU, when so many people want to leave?

Tusk frowned. He looked pained. “I am 60 years old,” he said slowly, “old enough to remember this irresponsible, sometimes hostile narrative.” Perhaps he was thinking also of other times, other deceptions. “We became the bogey man of British politics; we became responsible for every failure…” He stopped, without adding “of your own.”

Candor and careful choices

Tusk is disarming in person, a mix of candor and careful choices, sincere but not sloppy, thoughtful but also thick skinned. He takes his time, using his second-language English as a buffer against hasty answers. “Sometimes I say too much,” he admitted. 

Like his remark in 2019, that “There is a special place in Hell” for those who pushed Brexit without a plan. Did he mean Boris Johnson, Marr wondered.

Tusk smiled: “No, no.  I should agree with the Polish pope, that Hell is still empty.” 

Marr looked confused. So there’s nobody in Hell at all? Ever tactful, Tusk cushioned the misunderstanding. Yes, that too, but “it also means, there is space there for all of us.”  He’s probably funnier in Polish – throwaway lines are fiendishly difficult in translation. Still, enough survives to get the point.

In Britain, the big news from the interview was Tusk’s unguarded enthusiasm for an application for EU membership from Scotland, should it opt for independence.  Here, again, he hesitated, not wanting to be “too blunt.” But egged on by Marr, he happily went ahead.

“Emotionally, I have no doubt everyone would be enthusiastic here, in Brussels and more widely in Europe.” Of course, there were difficulties, rules, treaties; there would have to be a new process, a new application. Nothing is automatic. “But if you ask me about our emotions, there’s a genuine feeling. You will witness only, I think, empathy.”

As to Boris Johnson, Tusk admitted he had been angry about the poor preparation for post- Referendum Britain. But today, he said, “we are good friends,” with a shared goal “to preserve western civilization in a political sense.”

In the end, Tusk said, “we will not remember the wealth of our enemies; we will remember the silence of our friends. When I feel something is going wrong, I cannot be silent.”

Foto: Flickr/ EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/ Raul Mee

Dardis McNamee
Dardis McNamee is the Editor in Chief of METROPOLE. Over a long career in journalism she has written for The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler in New York, the Wall Street Journal Europe and Die Zeit in Vienna, as well as having been a speechwriter to two US ambassadors to Austria. She was awarded the 2007 Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching for her work at the Department of Media Communications for Webster University Worldwide. In 2010, she was granted Austrian Citizenship of Honor (Ehrenstaatsbürgerschaft) for outstanding contributions to the Austrian Republic

 

You like local independent journalism in English? So do we!

To keep providing you with current news, insights, opinion and Schmäh about our shared hometown, we need your help.
We chose to provide our daily coverage for free, because we believe in equal access to information. And we want to be independent from our advertisers, so we can deliver the news that you want. With your help, we can keep giving you the open, independent journalism you deserve.

Don’t let the advertisers win!

Metropolitans
 
Advertisers

If you’re able, please support Metropole today from as little as €1
or choose an amount:




RECENT Articles

3 Ways to Swear Like a Real Wiener

Entire books have been written about the ingenious ways the Viennese swear, rant, yammer and nag. And we know how to help you get acquainted with the high art of Viennese swearing.

The Burgtheater’s (im)Perfect Crib

Real time surtitles in German and English now make it possible for non-German speakers and the hard of hearing to enjoy Vienna’s greatest stage. But maybe you don’t need them.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Empress Elisabeth “Sissi” of Austria

Better known by her nickname “Sissi,” she has captured the hearts of the public ever since she was immortalized by actress Romy Schneider in a trilogy of 1950s romantic comedies.

Donald Tusk’s Clear Voice

Welcoming to Scotland, the perennial European is not about to leave the political stage.

“Mein Fall” | Austrian Writer Tells of Sexual Abuse

As a choirboy at the Zwettl Monastery in the 1960s, novelist Josef Haslinger was regularly assaulted by his superiors. Now he wrote about it.

Passing the Baton

The Vienna Theatre Project meditates on MLK’s last night on earth in Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop.”

5 Anti-Valentine’s Day Movies | It’s Difficult to Love

If the most saccharine of holidays is starting to get to you, here are five sobering – some would say more realistic – portrayals of human emotion.

Keeping It Together

Ken Loach takes on the human cost of the gig economy in his latest film, "Sorry We Missed You".