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20th Feb 2020

Poland isolated in bid to remove Tusk

  • Tusk (c) remains a clear preference among EU leaders despite Poland's objections (Photo: European Commission)

Poland has so far failed to secure wider support among EU states in its bid to dethrone Donald Tusk as president of the European Council.

EU foreign and defence ministers in Brussels on Monday (6 March) discussed the issue but deferred decisions to a meeting of EU leaders at a summit later in the week.

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Poland’s ruling PiS party has put forward an MEP, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, as its man to replace Tusk amid long-standing and personal animosity between Tusk and PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The Polish politicking has been badly received in Brussels, with the centre-right EPP group, Tusk’s allies, sacking Saryusz-Wolski from his post as EPP vice-president over his disloyalty.

Poland's foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski told his counterparts on Monday that Saryusz-Wolski was the only legitimate candidate in play, however.

“I underlined that that [Saryusz-Wolski] was the only Polish candidate … The ministers took note of that, but ministers don’t decide on this, this will be decided by heads of state or government either on Thursday or later,” he said.

Waszczykowski had lobbied his peers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovakia over dinner in Brussels on Sunday.

He said the Hungarian foreign minister “said very firmly that the national preference for a candidate should overrule all other concerns.”

“If he [Tusk] isn’t nominated by any member state then he shouldn’t be taken into consideration”, he added.

The Dutch foreign minister, Bert Koenders, belittled Saryusz-Wolski, however.

He said on Monday that he had “never heard of him”.

"It’s very important we have a very good president at the moment. Also, I think we should give precedence to the European interest, not domestic politics," Koenders told press.

'Disloyalty' and personal grievances

Tusk's first term as Council president ends in late May.

A former prime minister of Poland and leader of the opposition party Civic Platform, Tusk has said he wanted a second EU term.

Meanwhile, Saryusz-Wolski's candidacy for the post has riled his EPP political faction at the European Parliament.

A member of the Civic Platform, EPP leader Joseph Daul, accused Saryusz-Wolski of "disloyalty and disrespect" towards the party and then stripped him of the EPP vice-president title.

Even the centre-left social democrats, who had earlier wanted to put someone from their own party in the EU presidency chair, are backing Tusk.

In an interview with several newspapers on Monday, socialist French president Francois Hollande said he would support Tusk over any other candidate.

“I have no reason to question his candidacy, even if regarding the political balance it should be the turn of a socialist," he said.

The dispute risks overshadowing an EU summit in Brussels later this week.

Poland's eurosceptic government appears intransigent on the issue given the personal grievances between Tusk and Kaczynski.

Kaczynski has called Tusk a "German candidate" and also blames him for the Smolensk air disaster in 2010.

Kaczynski's twin brother and the then president, Lech Kaczynski, died in the wreckage, which the PiS leader has said was a Russian plot that Tusk helped to abet.

Desire for stability

The Polish push comes at a time when the EU is seeking greater stability following an upsurge of populist movements, the UK's departure from the bloc, and wider questions over the future of the remaining 27 member states.

One senior diplomat said Poland was trying to drag out the talks for as long as possible, in an effort to weaken Tusk's position.

But Poland may find itself in a bind should other EU states such as Germany or France call for a vote, given that a qualified majority is enough to re-elect Tusk for another 30 month term.

The same diplomat noted that another EU summit may be scheduled, if needed, should the issue not be resolved later this week.

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