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FILE PHOTO: European Council President Donald Tusk holds a news conference at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk confessed he gets furious about Brexit, describing Britain's departure from the EU as very sad on Tuesday as he used a speech in Dublin to call for unity in Europe.

The former Polish prime minister, who chairs meetings of the European Union's national leaders, cited his dislike of Brexit in a list of things that helped him identify with the Irish.

Receiving an honour at University College Dublin, he listed his Gaelic forename as well as his love of rugby, Irish rock band U2 and the country's writers.

"Last but not least: I don't like Brexit. Actually, that's an understatement," he said to loud applause. "I believe Brexit is one of the saddest moments in 21st-century European history.

"In fact, sometimes I am even furious about it."

Ireland's economic ties to Britain, which lies between it and the rest of Europe, and fears for stability in the British province of Northern Ireland, have led Dublin leaders to call Brexit a major threat to Irish prosperity.

Referring to a shared experience of painful history in Poland and Ireland, Tusk said that after building the EU the continent was facing the threat of new divisions.

He noted his own feud with the current Polish government and worries over peace in Northern Ireland after Brexit, as well as Balkan frictions, Catalonia's dispute with Madrid, Greece and Cyprus's problems with Turkey and arguments over irregular immigration that has put EU states at odds with each other.

"All we need to do is find each other again, count how many we are and reunite," Tusk said, citing a Gaelic proverb that "There is no strength without unity".

In remarks carrying a veiled criticism of his Polish opponents and of newly re-elected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, both accused by critics of straying from Europe's democratic values, Tusk repeated a warning that abusing civil liberties would jeopardise unity and strength.

"Only a sovereign Europe guarantees independence for its nations, guarantees freedom for its citizens," he said. "It is ... important that we all respect our common rules such as human rights and civil liberties, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, checks and balances, and the rule of law. This is the true foundation of our unity."

(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; editing by David Stamp)

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Reuters