BRUSSELS — The European Union must do more to defend its external borders against migrants, EU chief Donald Tusk said Tuesday, describing Europe as a “cultural community” whose heritage must be preserved.
While the president of the European Council insisted that Europeans are not superior to other peoples, his rhetoric of cultural preservation echoed in some ways the language of populist politicians winning support across Europe with calls to keep migrants from settling on the continent.
“We are a cultural community, which doesn’t mean that we are better or worse — we are simply different from the outside world,” Tusk said in an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
“Our openness and tolerance cannot mean walking away from protecting our heritage,” Tusk added. “We have the right and obligation to care for what distinguishes us from other cultures — not in order to be against someone, but to be ourselves. Without a feeling of superiority, but with a feeling of justified pride.”
Europe is deeply divided over the issue of migration, with leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel who initially called for relatively welcoming policies now retreating from those positions, and right-wing populists warning that large Muslim communities threaten to erode Europe’s Christian profile.
The leading proponent of that view has been Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who erected razor wire fences in 2015 at a time when the largest numbers of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa poured into Europe. He has often described Muslim migrants as invaders who threaten Europe’s cultural identity.
That view has resonated in many places including Tusk’s homeland, Poland, where he was previously prime minister.
Recent elections in Germany and Austria have reflected rising support for anti-migrant parties.
Tusk said the EU must do much more to protect the bloc’s external borders.
“Our duty is to protect them,” Tusk said. “The migration crisis has made us aware, with full force, of the need to rebuild effective control of our external borders while the aggressive behavior of certain third countries, and the destabilization around Europe, has made us aware of the need to defend our territory.”
Europe has reduced the migrant flow significantly since 2015 by making deals with Turkey and militias in Libya, something that human rights activists have criticized. Migrants in Libya in particular have said they faced abuse at detention centers where they are prevented from attempting boat trips to Europe.