Speech by President Donald Tusk at the European Policy Centre conference
I feel really honoured to be invited by you, especially since today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the EPC. There is no better way of doing this than by having a common serious and realistic reflection on the future of Europe. Frankly speaking, I also feel a little uncomfortable in the role of a speaker, instead of listening to your advice. The role of a listener would be for sure more natural today. But as you know well, politicians who are able to – and who want to listen to people wiser than them, are still a very rare commodity. But you have taken the risk of listening to my remarks, which I appreciate very much indeed. When I gave my first policy statement ten years ago, as Prime Minister of Poland, I spoke for nearly three hours. One of the commentators correctly observed that had my speech been as wise as it was long, it would have been one of the best in Polish history. From that moment on, I always speak briefly, which doesn’t necessarily mean – wisely. Today, I will also be brief.
But before I begin, I would again like to express my gratitude and deep respect for Herman Van Rompuy, who is not only my predecessor and president of the EPC, but also my friend. When two years ago you handed me the little brass bell, a symbol of our presidential power, (the word “power” is in this context a delicate overstatement), I said I was your greatest admirer. Not just because you supported me as your successor. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. Back then we all admired you for helping to steer us, to steer Europe out of the storm.
For five years – as one of the Prime Ministers around the table – I witnessed your skills: creating compromises; finding solutions; establishing trust, among often tough characters, hardly angels. To tell you the truth, it isn’t any better today. Yes: Herman Van Rompuy in fact personifies traditional European political principles, which are also very important to me: trust, common sense, moderation and decency. We all thank you for your excellent work, Herman. We miss you.
Unfortunately, your successes did not put a definite end to European problems. Subsequent crises appeared on the horizon. And please do not link this directly with my taking office as President of the European Council. The migration crisis, the still unresolved dilemmas of the eurozone, lasting tensions in eastern Ukraine, Brexit – this is our daily bread. Before I say a few words about Brexit – the most debated subject both in London and on the continent – allow me to share with you a more general reflection.