25 March 2017, Rome, Italy
Donald Tusk is the President of the European Council. This speech was delivered in the aftermath of Britain triggering Brexit.
I was born exactly 60 years ago, so I am the same age as the European Community. For this reason, please allow me for a more personal reflection today. As you know, sometimes the place of birth is even more important than the date of birth. In my case, it is the city of Gdańsk, persistently built for hundreds of years by Poles and Germans, by the Dutch, by Jews, by Scots and the French. In 1945, incidentally also in the month of March, within a few days Hitler and Stalin destroyed my hometown. It was burnt to the ground.
I was 8 years old when the Community established a single council and a single commission through the Merger Treaty; the road I then took to school every day still led through the ruins of the burnt city. For me, the Second World War is not an abstraction.
In 1980, a year after the first elections to the European Parliament, in my Gdańsk, the Solidarity movement, Solidarność, was born. I was there at the time, in the Gdańsk shipyard, among the workers, together with Lech Wałęsa, who had the courage to shout out the truth about our dreams in the face of the communist regime. They were simple dreams: about human dignity, about freedom and democracy. At that time we all looked to the West, towards a free and unifying Europe, instinctively feeling that this was the very future we were dreaming about. And although tanks and troops were sent against us, those dreams lived on.
When in 1987 the Single European Act (the beginning of the Single Market) entered into force, we in Poland were preparing ourselves for the final battle. Solidarność won, and soon after, the Berlin Wall also fell: the road to Europe opened up for us. And some 20 years later, already as Polish Prime Minister, I was opening the most modern stadium in Europe, of course in my hometown of Gdańsk. The city, that was then completely rebuilt and beautiful as never before. My country had already been in the European Union for 8 years.
I am recalling this brief course in history today only to make everybody aware that for millions of people, and today those millions will be demonstrating in the streets of our capitals, in Rome, in Warsaw, even London, the European Union is not about slogans, it is not about procedures, it is not about regulations. Our Union is a guarantee that freedom, dignity, democracy and independence are no longer only our dreams, but our everyday reality.
I lived behind the Iron Curtain for more than half of my life, where it was forbidden to even dream about those values. Yes, back then, that really was a two-speed Europe. And that is why today I have the right to loudly repeat this simple truth: that nothing in our life is granted forever - that to build a free world requires time, great effort and sacrifice. This is why it was achieved in so few places on Earth. And yet we made it. To destroy such a world is very easy. It only takes a short moment. As it happened once, with my Gdańsk.
Today in Rome we are renewing the unique alliance of free nations that was initiated 60 years ago by our great predecessors. At that time they did not discuss multiple speeds, they did not devise exits, but despite all the tragic circumstances of the recent history, they placed all their faith in the unity of Europe. They had the courage of Columbus to enter unchartered waters, to discover the New World.
And so tell me: why should we lose our trust in the purpose of unity today? Is it only because it has become our reality? Or because we have become bored or tired of it?
Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all. Only a united Europe can be a sovereign Europe in relation to the rest of the world. And only a sovereign Europe guarantees independence for its nations, guarantees freedom for its citizens. The unity of Europe is not a bureaucratic model. It is a set of common values and democratic standards. Today it is not enough to call for unity and to protest against multiple speeds. It is much more 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.
The Union after Rome should be, more than before, a Union of the same principles, a Union of external sovereignty, a Union of political unity. Prove today that you are the leaders of Europe, that you care for this great legacy we inherited from the heroes of European integration 60 years ago. Thank you