BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe is slowly turning a corner as a wave of anti-European Union movements peters out, Donald Tusk told EU leaders in a letter published before he will chair their two-day summit starting on Thursday.
Countries including Austria, the Netherlands, France and Italy have seen a sharp rise in popularity of parties with eurosceptic, often anti-immigration policies, but in recent months these have suffered decisive defeats in elections.
Tusk, the president of the council of EU heads of states and governments, said the bloc was now again starting to be perceived as a solution, rather the problem, and that recent difficulties had served to strengthen it.
“It is fair to say that we will meet in a different political context from that of a few months ago, when the anti-EU forces were on the rise,” Tusk wrote.
“The current developments on the continent seem to indicate that we are slowly turning the corner. In many of our countries, the political parties that have built their strength on anti-EU sentiments are beginning to diminish,” he said.
In Britain, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May lost its majority in parliament earlier this month, scuppering May’s stated aim of bolstering her mandate for negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU.
In France, Emmanuel Macron decisively won presidential and parliamentary elections on a agenda of support for the EU and reforms, soundly beating Marine Le Pen’s far right National Front, which for the first time in its history reached a second round in a presidential vote.
“We are witnessing the return of the EU rather as a solution, not a problem. Paradoxically, the tough challenges of the recent months have made us more united than before,” Tusk said.
Apart from Brexit, the EU is also facing a major immigration challenge which, though abated, is still fuelling anti-EU sentiment. Some blame the EU for not acting fast enough to stop the inflow of migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa.
A series of attacks by Islamist militants in Britain, France, Sweden, Germany and Belgium, in which hundreds were killed, have added to concerns.
To further stem migration flows, Tusk said the EU should give more money to support Libyan Navy Coastguards to help stop people being smuggled into the EU by sea.
There is also discontent over unfettered global trade, perceived as a threat to jobs in Europe.
“Therefore, during the upcoming European Council, I want us to move further on our policy response in these three areas,” Tusk said in the letter to the leaders.
He said that while the EU could not replace governments in fighting home-grown militants, it could put pressure on technology firms to act against “content that spreads terrorist material or incites to violence.”
Europe should also set up joint defence capabilities to improve security, Tusk said, and he also called for better instruments to defend EU trade against unfair competition and “uncontrolled globalisation”.
Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Raissa Kasolowsky