Solidarity, not euroscepticism, says Tusk as Poland takes EU helm

Solidarity, not euroscepticism, says Tusk as Poland takes EU helm

European solidarity needs to be more than just a slogan as the continent faces a persistent economic crisis and renewed skepticism about its unity, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Friday as his country took over the European Union's rotating presidency, DPA reported.

"A lot of the foundations in Europe as a community are being criticized today," he told international reporters in Warsaw. "It is important that despite all, what wins is the spirit for mutual assistance that is going to make Europe turn around altogether."

"So far, I can say that egoistic national interest has not won," he added. "The lack of reinforcement of Europe would be the worst answer to the political and financial crisis."

It is the first stab at the presidency for Poland, which joined the EU in 2004. It takes over the six-month rotating post as the EU faces one of its biggest tests, with three of its member countries in the midst of international bailouts and public opinion strained over austerity measures.

In Warsaw itself, several thousand labour unionists took to the streets on Thursday - with their march ending at Tusk's chancellery - to call for a higher minimum wage and better welfare benefits.

The Polish premier also expressed concern about a potential weakening of the Schengen open border agreement amid an EU debate over migration, and more generally the emergence of a new kind of "euroscepticism" that features politicians saying they are "for the EU and support integration, but at the same time suggest actions that weaken the community."

"I'm not going to say that these are the most difficult months in the history of the EU so far, but they are definitely among the more difficult and complicated ones," Tusk said. "I hope that the (Polish presidency's) six months ... are going to be proof that new member states in the EU can also meet the challenge of the European routine."

Boosting growth and improving economic governance in the EU in the wake of the global financial crisis are among the Polish presidency's top priorities, along with enhancing cooperation - not only with the bloc's high-profile southern neighbours, but also those on the eastern front.

"I am aware of the fact that the expectations of the Polish presidency are quite high," Tusk said. "It's an exciting task - and we have enough energy - to persuade others that Europe is a great thing, the best place on Earth where you can be born and live your life."

Polish officials will be joined later Friday by EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as representatives from the outgoing Hungarian presidency, to officially mark Poland's takeover of the bloc's leadership.

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