BRUSSELS — The best way to deal with the myriad of crises the EU is facing is for national capitals to broker common solutions instead of giving more powers to centralized EU institutions in Brussels, European Union President Donald Tusk said Tuesday.
In a bleak outlook on the state of the European Union, Tusk said EU institutions like the executive Commission have a simple task: to “support the priorities as agreed among member states, and not impose their own.”
This would mean containing the powers of politicians like Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is seen as the most important EU official along with EU Council President Tusk.
Juncker himself will be giving an official State of the European Union address at the EU parliament early Wednesday, a speech which has been hotly anticipated for weeks, but Tusk already stole some of his thunder.
His comments came in the traditional letter he writes to leaders ahead of a summit, but the missive ahead of Friday’s Bratislava meeting of EU leaders, minus Britain’s Theresa May, was exceptionally long and deeply wrought compared to the short matter-of-fact messages he usually sends.
The dislike for the EU’s centralized powers, like those of Juncker’s Commission, was key in the British referendum campaign which resulted in the nation’s stunning June 23 decision to leave the EU.
Tusk said it would be “a fatal error” to consider the British exit, or Brexit, a national issue only, but instead painted it as a symptom of unease across the union of 28 nations and half a billion people.
“It is also true that the Brexit vote is a desperate attempt to answer the questions that millions of Europeans ask themselves daily,” including those about security, sovereignty, cultural heritage and way of life, Tusk wrote. And he said the answers the member states seek now run counter to the long-held dream of an ever-closer union, and for some, a federalist super state.
In the past, the EU Commission has been essential in pushing through rules and regulations that have set up the EU’s famed single market where companies have been able to do business within an increasingly seamless community. But too often, the EU’s institutions have been criticized for red tape and interference in too many facets of people’s lives.
After a whirlwind tour of capitals over the past days, ahead of the summit in the Slovak capital, Tusk said that “my talks with you clearly show that giving new powers to European institutions is not the desired recipe.”
Even though EU leaders have already had a short meeting without Britain, the Bratislava summit is seen as a fundamental opportunity to change tack and re-instill a sense of confidence in the EU as a common bond for more practical cooperation between nations.
Even the location of the summit, away from Brussels, has been seen by some as an indication the appetite for so many things happening in “Brussels” is on the wane.
Tusk is calling for a break with the past.
“Today many people, not only in the UK, think that being part of the European Union stands in the way of stability and security,” he wrote. “People in Europe want to know if the political elites are capable of restoring control over events and processes which overwhelm, disorientate, and sometimes terrify them.”
In the wake of the migration crisis, Tusk wants the Bratislava summit to center on restoring effective controls of external borders.
He said that all too often, people have heard “politically correct statements that Europe cannot become a fortress, that it must remain open. The lack of rapid action and of a uniform European strategy have weakened citizens’ trust.”
He also had a message for wayward Britain, warning that as long as it doesn’t officially notify it will leave, there should be no backroom negotiations on terms. And he insisted that if the EU stuck together well during the split-up “there will be no room for doubt that it is a good thing to be a member of the union.”