20th Mar 2023

Polish president wins EU summit bunfight

Polish President Lech Kaczynski visibly had fun getting on the nerves of Prime Minister Donald Tusk and creating protocol puzzles on the first day of an EU summit in Brussels.

"[French leader] Sarkozy just said, that if the Poles can agree with each other, then so can Europe," he joked with press late on Wednesday (15 October) after a French EU presidency supper of potato and black truffle soup followed by perch grilled with sweet herbs.

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  • Mr Kaczynski (l) had more fun than Mr Tusk on Wednesday (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The Polish head of state was "in a very good humour" and "spoke a little unclearly" Polish broadsheet Rzeczpospolita reported, in polite-speak for being somewhat tipsy.

Mr Kaczynski had gatecrashed the summit after a two-week-long spat in Warsaw over who should lead the Polish delegation, which ended with the prime minister's office denying him the use of any of three official jets and forcing him to charter his own Boeing-737 at a cost of €40,000.

His unconventional presence at the supper - where EU countries are traditionally represented by just one person - culminated a day of mini-diplomatic incidents, insults and false smiles.

It began when Mr Kaczynski arrived at the summit venue one hour late without an official leaders' "PIN" badge and eventually entered the main chamber, forcing Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski and finance minister Jacek Rostkowski to leave the room to free up Poland's allotted chairs.

The president sat through the first item - a 10-minute Irish presentation on the Lisbon treaty - saying nothing, then left as the agenda turned to the financial crisis, asking Mr Tusk to keep him informed.

"You can ask all you like," an annoyed Mr Tusk replied, Mr Kaczynski himself later told press. The president's aides briefed reporters that Mr Sikorski and Rostkowski had been "escorted" out of the chamber by EU officials, in a statement hotly denied by the foreign office chief.

"We're gentlemen. When the president came, we left. We're hardly going to start scrapping together," Mr Sikorski said.

Mr Kaczynski's unofficial presence at the summit also played havoc with the EU "family photo" - where leaders line up around the incumbent EU presidency according to strict protocol rules, which see heads of state stand closer to the EU chair-in-office than prime ministers and upcoming EU presidencies outrank those that will assume the chairmanship in the distant future.

EU officials had hastily re-arranged little stickers on the floor to guide Mr Kaczynski to stand next to Mr Sarkozy, but the Polish president stood next to Mr Tusk anyway, off to the left of the group (the Polish EU presidency will take place in 2011).

During the day, the pair smiled, shook hands and even hugged each other for cameras with Prime Minister Tusk at one point admitting that Mr Kaczynski's presence was less disruptive than he had feared.

But other remarks betrayed anger that Poland was made to look silly at a meeting about serious economic problems arising out of the global financial crisis and the EU climate change package.

"The conflicts and controversies in the Polish delegation don't help me work," he told Gazeta Wyborcza. "Other countries are trying to exploit this uncomfortable situation ... the president's statement [that he wants to come to future summits as well] is dangerous from the point of view of Polish interests."

The Polish circus restarted on Thursday morning, with Mr Kaczynski saying "he" would personally veto the EU climate package if it harmed Poland, without consulting with Mr Tusk.

He added that the Polish foreign minister had blocked summit access for his team of experts, forcing him to run in and out of the Justus Lipsius building to take advice.

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