ZDonald Tusk absolutely wanted to say things before he left the European scene in two weeks' time. On Wednesday evening, the outgoing President of the European Council spoke in Bruges about the new study year of the College of Europe, a prestigious institution. If he had said these things a few months ago, he might have been fired, so he initiated the crucial part of his farewell speech. What followed was a settlement with the Brexiteers on the island and with the man who does not mince his words: Emmanuel Macron.
Tusk referred to the spectacular interview that Macron gave the Economist a week ago. In it, the French President of NATO declared the "brain death" and called on the Europeans to take their fate in their own hands. He shared the dream of a sovereign Europe, Tusk said. But then Europe must act that way – and not as Macron did recently, when he single-handedly prevented Albania and northern Macedonia from being promoted to EU accession candidates. "There will not be a sovereign Europe without a stable Balkan integrated in Europe," Tusk said.
Then the former Polish Prime Minister Macron's attitude towards Russia became apparent. The French president has been calling for a few weeks for Europe to reassess this relationship: away from opposition, towards partnership. Macron also considers NATO obsolete because it is based on an outdated notion from the Cold War – that Moscow is the enemy. But Tusk recalled the Russian invasion of the Crimea in 2014 when he took office as Council President. He was proud that the then imposed sanctions against Moscow under his leadership had been extended again and again. "Our strong and emphatic attitude to Russia was the first expression of our sovereignty, clear and unequivocal," Tusk claimed.
"But not me, Emmanuel!"
Macron, on the other hand, has just said he shares Russia's image of Hungary's Viktor Orban, and hopes that Orban could change Poland's stance on Moscow. Perhaps that will succeed, Tusk said, adding, "But not me, Emmanuel!" Even before, he had clearly distanced himself from the French President, whom he called a "dear friend" and "our hope for the future." It was about Tusk's own attempt to preserve the unity of the European Union in difficult times. The debt crisis of the Greeks, the migration crisis, the Brexit – these were the major challenges of this Council President. "Over the past five years, it has been necessary to brake on so-called creative ideas and initiatives: a small club, core Europe and others." Paris was particularly active there, "paradoxically just after the election of President Macron".
He added sharply, "Europe's unity will not be created by either extreme Eurosceptics or radical federalists." He indirectly blamed Macron for splitting Europe, in stark contrast to the French claim.
To the British, Tusk has rubbed again and again since the Brexit. He wished the Brexiteers a "special place in hell". In Bruges, he made up his claim that Britain would once again become a global power once it left the EU. "I've heard the same everywhere, in India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa," Tusk said, all members of the Commonwealth. "That the United Kingdom will be an outsider after his departure, a second-rate player, while the battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States and the European Union." He quoted an English friend who was probably right when he said, " that Brexit is the true end of the British Empire ". Clear, hard, uncomfortable sentences – that's what Tusk was known and sometimes notorious for the past few years. He took the liberty of saying what he thinks instead of hiding behind speech formulas. That's exactly how he said goodbye to the first series of European politics in Bruges on Wednesday evening.