Poland rages as Tusk is re-elected at EU summit

Poland rages as Tusk is re-elected at EU summit
By bne IntelliNews March 10, 2017

Donald Tusk was elected for a second 2.5-year term as the president of the European Council on March 9, with 27 nation states voting in favour and one – Poland – against. 

The vote saw Warsaw’s eyebrow-raising strategy to try to block the election of its compatriot fall apart. The result leaves Poland's PiS government isolated and raging at a bloc with which it has already been arguing for over a year concerning controversial measures on the judiciary and media.

“Grateful for trust & positive assessment… I will do my best to make the EU better,” Tusk tweeted directly after his re-election was confirmed.

“In our view, the decision to reelect Donald Tusk doesn’t bode well for Europe,” said a PiS spokesperson. “It’s the first time in history that the voice of the country where the candidate comes from isn’t taken into account.”

Poland had fielded MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski as an alternative candidate, and then spent the days ahead of the summit rushing around furiously to persuade other member states to support its objections to Tusk. However, member states staunchly refused to allow the personal vendetta of PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski against Tusk to rock a 28-state bloc, although reports had suggested the UK could abstain.

Not even Hungary, whose government has recently formed an "illiberal axis" with PiS professing plans for "revolution" within the EU, would listen. Prime Minister Viktor Orban was the target of vicious jibes from conservative Poles on social media, accused of being a traitor in the service of Germany.

Although he does not hold a government post, Kaczynski is the de facto ruler of Poland. He blames Tusk - who served as prime minister at the head of the centre right Civic Platform for seven years - for the Smolensk plane crash that killed his twin brother, former president Lech Kaczynski, in 2010.

PiS has since accused Tusk of supporting attempts to overthrow the government last year. However, that accusation gained little traction with the rest of the EU council.

The result left Poland even more isolated within the bloc than it was previously, but Warsaw continues to exhibit a remarkable lack of statemanship and diplomacy.

“It’s clearly written that summits end with conclusions. If one country doesn’t accept it, it means the summit is not relevant," moaned Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. "If now there is a way to find a different solution, that only shows that there are no rules. And Poland doesn’t agree with this. And I definitely won’t accept any document from this summit.”

Tusk will face a number of difficult challenges in his role. The EU is preparing for the upcoming Brexit negotiations, seeking clues regarding US policy, and trying to cope with Russia’s renewed confidence in geopolitics. 

A major reform of the EU is also on the cards, including a push from some member states for deeper integration that may leave Tusk’s Eurosceptic homeland - and the Visegrad Four group Warsaw may now have definitively split - sidelined.