17th Mar 2018

Poland at war against Tusk's EU job

  • Donald Tusk (r) is facing pressure from political rivals in Poland's ruling Law and Justice. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Donald Tusk could become the first European Council president to be re-elected to the prestigious post against the will of his own country's government.

Tusk is a prime contender for the race, which will be decided at a meeting of EU heads of state on Thursday and Friday this week.

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But Poland's ruling social-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, late on Saturday (4 March), barred Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo from backing Tusk's candidacy.

Instead, the ministry of foreign affairs formally put forward Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, an MEP from Tusk's centre-right Civic Platform (PO), after PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski called Tusk a "German candidate".

Kaczynski blames Tusk for the plane crash in Smolensk in 2010, where one hundred people died, including president Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw's twin brother.

Party officials also say Tusk has supported imposing sanctions against Poland, although it's difficult to know what they refer to.

Tusk's tweets

PiS MEP Karol Karski told a radio programme on Sunday that Tusk had written Twitter messages in support of punishing Poland with fines of €250,000 for each refugee Warsaw fails to relocate from Italy and Greece.

But there is no record of such tweets.

PO, when still in charge, agreed to taking up go 12,000 refugees under an EU solidarity scheme. The PiS government's failure to relocate a single person has angered other member states and the EU commission.

But the idea to have member states pay relates to another proposal, the Dublin revision, which is still under discussion.

Saryusz-Wolski has declined to talk to the media but is very active on Twitter.

He confirmed his bid, saying that he "cannot accept denouncing [one's] own country and supporting sanctions against it."

Saryusz-Wolski was elected MEP in 2004, and had a moderately successful career as one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament (2004-2007) and chairman of the foreign affairs committee (2007-2009).

But he has been in conflict with PO for years, and was demoted from representing the party's delegation in the European parliament.

Tusk is only the second president of the European Council since the post was installed by the Lisbon Treaty. Both him and his predecessor, Herman Van Rumpoy, were prime ministers at the time of their election.

Saryusz-Wolski, on the other hand, doesn't even have a party.

PO expelled the renegade from its ranks on Saturday.

He will likely lose his position as one of the vice-presidents of the European People's Party (EPP), having been summoned by EPP president Joseph Daul for a meeting "first thing on Monday".

Daul, writing on Twitter, recalled that "EPP statutes clearly state that any EPP VP must be a member of an EPP member party".

"I fully respect the decision of Platforma," Daul added, and said the EPP family stands united behind Tusk's candidacy.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the EPP group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, said Saryusz-Wolski would be expelled later in the week unless he revoked his candidacy.

"It is symptomatic that the Polish government once again pursues only a Polish domestic policy agenda and has completely abandoned any constructive ambition at European level. Every further attack on Donald Tusk will only jeopardise Polish interests in Europe," Weber said in an emailed statement.

A socialist candidate?

Tusk was reported to have the support of all countries except his own at a meeting of EU heads of state in Malta earlier this year.

Few outside PiS think Saryusz-Wolski stands a chance, but some say the row around Tusk's presidency could embolden a bid from the socialist party. PiS officials have said the Nordic countries are putting forward former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schimdt as a candidate and that the name of former Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann has also been floated.

A Council spokeswoman told EUobserver there were no other candidates for now, but that this could still change before Thursday's summit.

According to Polish press, Poland's foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski sought to rally his colleagues against Tusk at a meeting of Visegrad and Benelux countries on Sunday.

Leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, meeting in Versailles on Monday, will also likely discuss the issue.

French president Francois Hollande, a socialist, told Le Monde in an interview published on Monday that he didn't see any reason to replace Tusk, even if the socialists were next in line for the post.

"It's possible to chose a candidate refused by his own country," Hollande said, adding he wouldn't participate in any effort to "evict" Tusk.

Tusk re-election on EU agenda This WEEK

Polish infighting seems to be taking over the EU summit's agenda, as the European Council chief is up for re-election. In the meantime, foreign ministers are expected to sign off a new military HQ in Brussels.

Poland isolated in bid to remove Tusk

Poland appears increasingly isolated in Brussels as it seeks public support to unseat Donald Tusk as president of the European Council.


Poland's diplomatic suicide

Only the three other Visegrad states can contain Poland's suicide attempt by saying that Tusk is still central Europe's candidate.

EU re-elects Tusk, Poland isolated

EU leaders took just 30 minutes to vote Donald Tusk back into office, in a diplomatic fiasco for Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo.

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