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29th Mar 2020

Poland snubbed twice in EU summit fiasco

  • Polish PM Beata Szydlo (l) with Europe minister Konrad Szymanski (r): "Why don't we respect each other, listen to each other?" (Photo: Consilium)

[Updated on 10 March at 7.50] Poland tried and failed to block summit conclusions shortly after failing to block Donald Tusk’s re-election in an EU summit drama.

Polish leader Beata Szydlo said she would not sign the text in revenge for being outvoted over Tusk's re-election as EU Council chief by 27 to one.

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In an unprecedented move the conclusions were eventually published under the title: “Conclusions by the president of the European Council".

"The European Council deliberated on the attached document. It was supported by 27 members of the European Council, but it did not gather consensus, for reasons unrelated to its substance," the document said on its first page.

"References to the European Council in the attached document should not be read as implying a formal endorsement by the European Council acting as an institution," it added.

It is highly irregular for a country to reject the whole summit communique.

Normally, member states are unhappy with some aspects, or want to tweak the wording, which is agreed in lengthy negotiations. To reject the entire text - which ranges from migration to deeper defence cooperation - is a different matter.

The publication of the conclusions despite Poland's opposition was a second snub, hours after 27 EU leaders left Szydlo alone in opposing Tusk’s reappointment.

She said the re-election of Tusk, a political opponent of her ruling Law and Justice party, was an insult to her country.

She also said it ought to be a matter of principle not to elect an EU president who did not enjoy the support of his home country.

"How can it be that 27 European leaders don't want to hear the arguments of a member state, which has justified grounds to doubt that a candidate should be chosen to a post," she told a news conference.

"Why don't we respect each other, listen to each other? That's today the largest problem of the EU," Szydlo said.

The European Council served a narrow set of countries, she added, in a thinly veiled reference to Germany. She said she had reminded leaders they too could be steamrolled.

"Today it's about Poland, but soon you too can find yourself in this situation," Szydlo said.

She added that such "hastily solutions" were evidence the EU was not bound by principles.

'What happened is very bad'

She did not clarify whether she would cooperate with Tusk in future, but said she would participate in Friday's informal meetings on the Rome summit on the future of Europe.

"Migration, Brexit and today show that things are not going in the right direction, and we cherish the EU too much to let it fall apart," she said, adding that her Europe was a "united Europe, respectful of its members, dealing with matters important to EU citizens".

Asked if Poland, as a net recipient of EU funds, had been right to stand on its veto, she said most of the money went back to western firms who were contracted on European projects.

"I hear very often that central European countries benefit from the EU budget and because of this should be obedient," she said.

Reactions from the Polish were equally bitter.

Szydlo’s party chief, Kaczynski, said: “Donald Tusk will not be able to function with the red and white flag [of Poland] ... What happened is very bad.”

His foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish broadcaster TVN24: “We know that now this is a Union controlled by Berlin.”

Tusk grateful

The newly re-elected Tusk said he was "grateful for the trust the European Council has placed in me, but now is not the time for self-congratulations. I can only state that I will continue to work for a better and more united Europe with all member states, without exception.”

He said he wanted to cooperate with every member of the European Council.

"I will do everything I can to protect the Polish government against political isolation, this is for obvious reasons,” he said.

When asked how he would mend ties with his rivals in Warsaw, Tusk said he would communicate with the Polish government in Polish.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker joked that “hopefully this is a language the Polish government can understand."

Presidents of the European Council are elected by qualified majority, and there is nothing in the treaties saying they need to enjoy the support of their home country.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that 27 countries thought they had worked very well with Tusk and they wished to continue the relations.

"Even if qualified majority exists, it's important to find consensus, but seeking consensus should not be abused by imposing blockade," she said.

"We looked at what the treaty stipulate, the decision was taken on basis of the treaty," she told reporters, adding that "we want to have a good relation with Poland".

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