President of the European Council Donald Tusk, in an address to the UCD Law Society on Tuesday April 10th, highlighted the 8th anniversary of a plane crash in Poland in which the then-Polish president and many senior public and state officials died. “Shared national mourning,” Tusk said, “quickly changed into a painful and particularly nasty argument that has divided my nation ever since.”
President Tusk, who arrived in UCD to receive the UCD Law Society’s Honorary Lifetime Membership Award for his contribution to European politics, reflected on hard-won peace across Europe and the growing unease over issues such as Brexit and EU integration.
“While here in Dublin, and in Belfast, today, on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, thousands of people are looking with concern and anxiety to the future of the peace process after Brexit.”
“Later this month, I will be visiting the Balkans – to describe all the conflicts in that region would require a many-hour lecture. The Greeks and Cypriots have worries of their own about their neighbour, not to mention the emotions surrounding illegal migration and the security of Europe’s external border. I could go on.”
Calling for unity within Europe, Tusk recalled the Irish phrase, ní neart go cur le chéile (There is no strength without unity), and, quoting himself, said: “Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all.”
Tusk’s speech was followed by two brief questions from LawSoc Auditor Laura Hogan on the future of the EU, and Tusk’s time as a student activist in Poland. In response, President Tusk stated that he wished to focus on pragmatic ways to improve the lives of EU and EU-partner citizens, including PESCO (Permanent Structured EU Cooperation), the EU’s Treaty-based defence initiative, rather than insist on further enlargement in the near future.
President Tusk then spoke of his life almost 40 years ago, including the “boring” life he lead under Communism in Poland – “This was the worst side of Communism. Not repression but boredom.” Tusk also mentioned a group of shipyard workers who were shot dead by the Secret Police on the street on which he lived, stating that “it shaped the rest of my life.”
Tusk entered Polish politics in the early 1990s after the fall of communism in Poland in 1989. He was first elected Prime Minister of Poland in 2007 and resigned in 2014 when he was elected to the position of President of the European Council.