When politicians retire from office, they usually put their balance sheets in as bright a light as possible. All the more remarkable was the appearance of Donald Tusk a few days ago in Zagreb. The EU Council President, whose second and final term ended at midnight, wanted to be elected chairman of the conservative European People's Party in the Croatian capital. His application speech, however, he did not end with a song of praise to his work of the past five years, but with a downright damning verdict: "I'm tired of being Europe's chief bureaucrat." He finally wanted to fight politically again.
This could hardly have been expressed more firmly by diehard EU critics. Although the EPP delegates acknowledged the openness and belligerence of 62-year-old Poland. They chose Tusk with 93 percent to their new party leader. For many observers, however, the impression remained that an avowed European had lowered their thumbs over the Brussels institutional fabric. Tusk's passionate attacks on "populists, manipulators, and autocrats" did not change that, meaning he meant the right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the British Brexit hardliner Boris Johnson, and the Warsaw-ruling PiS with its authoritarian party leader Jarosław Kaczyński.
Five years as a gift? At least, Tusk stated in Zagreb that, as President of the Council, he had no real influence on the affairs of the EU. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty, which established the permanent Presidency, does not even give the President a vote in the Council of Heads of State and Government. He is in charge of the sessions and is able to pray to Chancellors, Prime Ministers and Heads of State in a famous confessional procedure to help find compromises in the notorious Brussels negotiating nights. But the decisions are made by others.
His expectation was to be able to make a difference
For a thoroughbred politician like Tusk, who ruled from 2007 to 2014 as Prime Minister in Warsaw and delivered during this time a long battle with PiS chief Kaczyński, the role of the master of ceremonies and confessor was recognizable too little. More and more often he let his frustration and his mocking pleasure run free in his second term. So, at the height of the Brexit crisis on Instagram, he posted a photo of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was looking for a cake buffet for the right piece. " Sorry, no cherries, " Tusk wrote, referring to May's alleged " cherry picking, " her cherry picking in negotiations with the EU.
Mays successor Johnson he accused a "stupid black Peter game". And when French President Emmanuel Macron recently expressed his hope to convince the Poles of the need for better relations with Russia, Tusk countered provocatively curtly: "Not me." All this suggests that in December 2014, born in Gdansk, in exchange for better knowledge of the limited powers of the President of the Council, with the expectation of moving to Brussels, he was able to make a difference.
And Tusk was not the only one who had such hopes. Chancellor Angela Merkel did not make herself strong for her political friend from the neighboring country in the heart of Europe. Ten years after the great enlargement of the EU in 2004, Germany, in the center of the continent, saw a rapidly growing need to bring East and West closer together. Economically, Czechs and Slovaks, Poles and Hungarians, the Baltic and Slovenians had benefited enormously from the internal market and the structural assistance provided by Brussels. The free movement of labor, however, led to a dramatic emigration of mostly young and well-educated Eastern Europeans, who sought their fortune in the rich regions of the West.