European Council President Donald Tusk has warned that Europe, reeling from the migration and the possibility of the UK quitting the bloc, is on the cusp of a tragedy like World War One.
He blamed the migration crisis for weakening the ties between EU countries, and warned that it was a powerful weapon for those pushing the UK towards Brexit.
Tusk has cleared his schedule next week to hold urgent meetings with leaders including Angela Merkel and François Hollande, to push for a deal to keep Britain in the bloc at a crunch 18 February summit. He drew up the compromise deal with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has demanded EU reforms as his price for campaigning to stay in Europe.
He said that the UK’s referendum on EU membership has inspired “egotistical”, politicians, comparing Europe’s political landscape to that immediately before the outbreak of World War One.
Tusk said that he could only do “so much” as Council President and that European Union leaders, who meet in Brussels next week, needed to start living up to their responsibilities.
“I am absolutely aware that the migration crisis and debate on Brexit is about how to survive in our tradition of liberal democracy. How to survive against radicalism and extremism,” Tusk told local leaders at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels yesterday (10 February).
“I don’t want to be too spectacular but you know what I mean,” he said. “It’s like the first day before the first world war. This is really the proper analogy I think.”
Europe’s future under threat
Brexit was not just a problem for EU-UK relations, the former prime minister of Poland said.
“This is about the future of Europe becuase I am really afraid that this referendum can be a very attractive model for some politicians in the EU to achieve some internal, very egoistic goals using the same way.
“In fact I know some politicians in Europe already do to copy this political model to underline that they are really independent towards Brussels.”
“We have to do everything to keep the UK in Europe not only because I really believe this is better solution for UK and EU […] but also because of the political future of the so called political mainstream in the EU.”
Tusk lashed out at his namesake Donald Trump, using him as an example of growing intolerance across the Western world.
And he warned that the ongoing migration crisis was the best weapon for those who want the UK to quit the EU in the upcoming referendum.
“I am sure the details in the document are not as important to people in UK as the main political mood and the migration crisis is the worst context for this referendum,” he said.
“It is so easy to blame the EU as a whole for this migration crisis. I am afraid this is the most useful tool for Eurosceptics in the UK to show how vulnerable EU is today.”
Tusk said that the passport-free Schengen zone was at stake becuase of the migration crisis. Strengthening borders through strong cooperation with partners like Turkey was vital.
“I know how difficult it is and I know Turkey is not our best partner on other things but it is what we have,” he said.
The 18 February summit will discuss Brexit and the migration crisis.
“I am too old to be an idealist. I am a a pragmatist. I can call European Council meetings and I can persuade. OK, I have to use these tools as best I can,” Tusk told the regional and city leaders in the committee.
Next week's European Council meeting will focus on the deal to keep the United Kingdom in the EU and the migration crisis. More than 650,000 of the 800,000 refugees who have reached European Union countries by sea this year have left from Turkey, which is home to some two million refugees from neighbouring Syria and other countries in the region.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.
But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
12 February: Second sherpa meeting on Tusk's settlement deal.
18 February: EU leaders to discuss Cameron's reform demands.
June 2016: Rumoured favoured date of Cameron for holding the referendum.
End of 2017: Deadline for referendum.
July-December 2017: United Kingdom holds rotating EU Council Presidency.