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Donald Tusk is no friend of democracy

The former president of the European Council did everything in his power to smother the Brexit vote.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Brexit Politics World

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‘Democracy has won’, declared a jubilant Donald Tusk on Sunday. The former president of the European Council had just learned of the exit polls showing his rivals in Poland’s parliamentary elections losing their majority. The populist, Eurosceptic incumbents, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, still gained the most votes. But the elections have nonetheless opened the door for Tusk’s centre-right Civic Platform to lead a new coalition government. (The official result is not expected until Tuesday.)

Tusk is not alone in pitching his presumed victory as a victory for democracy more broadly. Brussels and the international press have all treated these elections as an existential battle between a return to democratic norms with Tusk and a deeper descent into populist or nativist authoritarianism with PiS, whose eight years in office are now likely at their end.

But there are major problems with this framing. Not least because Donald Tusk is clearly no friend of democracy. In fact, during his five years as the unelected president of the European Council, he worked tirelessly to frustrate people’s democratic wishes, both behind the scenes and out in the open.

When 17.4million Britons voted to leave the EU in 2016, lending Brexit the largest democratic mandate for anything in UK history, Tusk did not even pretend to take their views seriously. In fact, prior to the referendum, he privately warned then prime minister David Cameron that the very act of holding a vote on EU membership, letting the public freely have their say, would be ‘so dangerous… so stupid’. Apparently, according to the man who now poses as a champion of democracy, major political decisions should not be taken by the people.

Even four years after the ‘stupid referendum’, as he repeatedly called it, was held, Tusk was no more willing to accept the result. Speaking at a joint press conference in February 2019 with the Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tusk mused out loud that there would be a ‘special place in hell’ for Brexiteers.

A few months later, in a November 2019 speech at the College of Europe, the supposedly neutral EU official decided to meddle in the upcoming UK General Election, by lending his public backing to the pro-Remain opposition parties. He told Remainers never to ‘give up’ on stopping Brexit. And he warned the electorate that a vote for Boris Johnson’s Tories, who promised to ‘Get Brexit Done’, would turn Britain into ‘an outsider, a second-rate player’.

More alarmingly, in that same speech, Tusk admitted to trying to stymie Brexit from behind the scenes, within the dark corridors of Brussels. ‘I did everything in my power to avoid the confrontational No Deal scenario and extend the time for reflection and a possible British change of heart’, he confessed. It can hardly get more explicit than that. Here we had an unelected EU official admitting to using his power – everything in his power – to artificially slow down the Brexit process in an attempt to force a change of heart. To overturn the referendum result. To silence the expressed democratic wishes of 17.4million Leave voters.

Tusk and his allies in Brussels clearly have a very Orwellian understanding of the word democracy. Where you and I understand it to mean ‘the rule of the people’, the EU oligarchs think it means ‘anything that aligns with our wishes’.

A similar trick is at play in Poland. Logically, the fact that the governing party is set to lose power following these parliamentary elections ought to call into question the international handwringing over the health of Polish democracy. As should the extremely high turnout of 73 per cent – the highest for 34 years (turnout has only ever increased under PiS rule). But in the eyes of the Brussels elite, ‘democracy’ does not mean the free participation of the public, or rule by the majority. It means following the EU’s ‘values’ and serving the interests of the Brussels oligarchy. And so parties and politicians that align with Brussels, like Tusk and his Civic Platform, are said to represent all that is ‘democratic’ and good. Meanwhile, those that deviate from EU orthodoxies, like Poland’s PiS, are cast out as authoritarian threats to the ‘democratic’ order.

The truth is that Tusk and the EU elites have gone out of their way to subvert democracy. They have tried to overturn referendum results and put a lid on the populist passions of the people. For them to pose as champions of democracy now feels like a sick joke.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Topics Brexit Politics World

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