Donald Tusk calls for EU unity after breakfast Brexit deal
European Council president visits Hungary after Brussels accord with Theresa May
European Council president Donald Tusk delivers an acceptance speech after he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Pecs in Hungary. Photograph: Tamas Soki
After helping Britain move a little closer to the EU exit early on Friday, European Council president Donald Tusk flew east to focus on the future of the bloc and urge other restive members to unite around liberal values.
Theresa May made a pre-dawn dash to Brussels to clinch agreement with top EU officials on the first phase of Brexit talks, allowing Mr Tusk to take off as planned for Hungary to deliver what he called a “confession of faith” in the union.
Intended or not, the “optics” of Ms May rushing to Brussels in the early hours and Mr Tusk swiftly jetting off on other business showed that life goes on outside the Brexit bubble and that relations with London are just one of many EU priorities.
The choreography appalled Nigel Farage, who fumed on Twitter that Ms May “flying through the night to meet three unelected men and agree to every single one of their demands is humiliating for our country”.
Mr Farage may have been apoplectic to learn the appointment Mr Tusk was so determined to keep was not with a head of state, but with Pecs university in southern Hungary, where he was to receive an honorary degree.
More than just another opportunity to don a gown and collect a scroll, however, this was a chance for Mr Tusk to expound on the strengths of the EU in the homeland of one of its chief detractors, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
Mr Tusk arrived a day after the European Commission launched legal action against Mr Orban’s government over its treatment of asylum seekers, civil society groups and a Budapest university funded by liberal philanthropist George Soros.
The plan has put Brussels at loggerheads with populist leaders such as Mr Orban and Poland’s ruling party chief, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whom the EU accuses of undermining democracy in their countries.
“I am well-aware of how alive and sometimes brutal today’s debate can be here in Hungary and in my country Poland,” Mr Tusk said.
“But I can’t help the fact that for me, the most crucial European values continue to be human and civil rights, freedom of speech and conscience, the rule of law, and respect for minorities’ rights,” he declared after collecting his degree.
“I believe that the only guarantee of the survival of these values is liberal democracy,” Mr Tusk said, in a riposte to Mr Orban’s stated ambition of turning Hungary into an “illiberal democracy”.
On a day that began with him lamenting the difficulty of the Brexit break-up, Mr Tusk told his Hungarian audience the EU must overcome the migration crisis and find its future strength in solidarity. “To put it bluntly: there will not be a Europe as we know it, if there are no borders and no law enforcement – and there will not be a Europe that we desire, if it is taken over from within by our political barbarians.”