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18th Sep 2021

EU re-elects Tusk, Poland isolated

  • "I will do my best to make the EU better," Tusk said after being re-elected by 27 leaders against one. (Photo: Consilium)

Donald Tusk was re-elected European Council president on Thursday (9 March) by EU leaders meeting in Brussels despite opposition from his native Poland.

"Thank you for keeping your fingers crossed and the cordial support. It helped," the former Polish premier tweeted shortly after he was confirmed for another two-and-a-half year mandate.

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In another tweet he said he was "grateful for [the] trust and positive assessment" by the European Council. "I will do my best to make the EU better," he added.

Twenty seven member states voted in favour of Tusk, leaving Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo alone in opposition to her fellow countryman, a political opponent of her conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Arriving at the summit, Szydlo had insisted that "a person who has no support in his home country cannot become president of the European Council".

In the end, it took EU states just half an hour to overrule her.

Szydlo even lost the support of Poland's usual EU allies, Visegrad group partners Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia believed Warsaw's anti-Tusk stunt had harmed Visegrad collaboration and the group's weight in the European Council.

"He [Tusk] comes from our region and understands it," Czech premier Bohuslav Sobotka said, adding that Tusk was a Visegrad candidate and that Poland had no right to veto him.

Council chiefs are normally chosen by consensus, but Poland forced Tusk to be reappointed by a vote, which only served to highlight Warsaw's diplomatic fiasco.

Muscat, who chaired the meeting, led Tusk back to the room after the formal vote, where he was received by a round of applause.

Szydlo in a letter on Wednesday accused Tusk of having tried to overthrow her government.

She also pushed for the Council to meet with Warsaw's alternative candidate, MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, in hard-ball tactics which, EU officials said, closed to door to any compromise.

"We don’t want to become hostages of national politics inside Poland, it looks more like the war of thrones" Lithuania's president Dalia Grybauskaite said on her way in to the summit.

"I don't see how a country could oppose that solution as long as all others are in favour of it," France's president Francois Hollande said.

He added that keeping Tusk was important for EU "continuity, coherence, stability".

Tusk's was mainly opposed by PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who holds Tusk responsible for his twin brother's death in the Smolensk air disaster in 2010.

According to sources, Poland had threatened to leave the summit early if Tusk was re-elected.

But Szydlo stayed in the room after the vote despite her threat.

'Democratic'

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said Tusk's re-election was a “democratic” decision.

“It's not a scandal, it's democracy,” Tajani said at a press conference on Thursday, after giving his speech to EU leaders at the summit.

Tajani was not present at the vote, and noted the election of the European Council president was “not my job”.

He said Poland's objection to Tusk's re-election was “an internal matter for Poland”, and he would not share his feelings about the candidacy of MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who until recently was a member of Tajani's and Tusk's centre-right EPP party.

“It's a personal decision of my colleague Saryusz-Wolski,” said Tajani.

Allies irritated

The feud comes at an awkward time, with the founding EU member states pushing for a multi-speed Europe that would allow them to push forward with deeper integration.

The Visegrad states fear that that could leave them behind in a second-class Union.

They warned in a statement last week that it could lead to the disintegration of the EU.

The future of the EU will be discussed on Friday morning, with Tusk chairing the meeting.

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