September 14, 2016
Tusk's confusing message
The German media got their hands on a letter sent by Donald Tusk to the EU leaders ahead of the Bratislava summit this Friday, in which they are due to discuss the future of a post-Brexit EU. It is also the first summit in modern times, in which the UK does not take part.
Tusk's letter contains a whole string of truisms so much so that one finds it hard to stop nodding in agreement. But what changes is he actually proposing? He says it would be a fatal mistake to interpret the Brexit vote as a typically British problem. He sees it as a desperate attempt to answer questions that millions of Europeans are asking themselves every day. Really? Either Tusk did not understand the nature of the UK's debate - which was about stopping EU migrants - or he confounds these issues on purpose. The British debate had nothing to do with fortifying the EU external borders. Tusks is right that the external borders have to be better protected, but this is an entirely unrelated issue.
He then goes on to say the Europeans want to know whether their leaders are capable of regaining the control of events, which are confusing and frightening them. We suppose that he is expressing the problem of external migration. And, he continues, once people conclude that they are not protected, they will look for alternatives, and they will find them.
Another platitude was his plea to be more inclusive of those who are opposed to the establishment view on economic and social policy, as the TTIP opponents do. He did, of course, not call for TTIP to be ditched, which is the one and only thing the TTIP opponents want. One gets the impression that this is about language, not about about substance.
The wider pre-Bratislava commentary is rather noisy. Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, caused a bit of a stir with his comment that the Hungarians should be kicked out of the EU.
And the FT has a quote by Markus Ferber, a senior CSU MEP, who said that after Brexit the "Club Med" countries are a blocking minority in the EU "with which they will obstruct all the laws that don’t suit them". He is then quoted describing the countries as “a strong coalition of reform-resistant redistributors”. Nice alliteration.
There is a lot confused thinking ahead of the informal EU summit. Minus the UK, the EU is essentially the eurozone. The eurozone has still not recovered from the crisis - and this is the root of the insurrection mindset of electorates, and the readiness to embrace anti-establishment candidates. We very much agree with the idea of further co-ordination on internal and external security, on the lines the French and Germans have suggested. But there is no point in starting a new phase of integration when the existing phase is incomplete, and not likely to be completed. If you don't solve the problems in the eurozone, you will depress real incomes, which is the main factor driving the hostility towards migrants. The solution is not to keep the migrants out, but to fix the economy.
We find it astonishing to see the extent to which Tusk is misreading the UK Brexit vote. The EU's external borders were not a central issue since the UK is not part of the Schengen area. The UK wants intra-EU immigration controls. Is Tusk saying that this is a message we should be listening to? If so, he should be more explicit.