Poland struggles in bid to oust Tusk

By bne IntelliNews March 7, 2017

The Polish government spent March 6 canvassing for support for its alternative candidate for the European Council presidency to compatriot Donald Tusk. However, it met little success, even in its own backyard.

Poland put Jacek Saryusz-Wolski forward as a potential competitor to Tusk, current head of the council, on March 4. Warsaw’s decision to challenge the former Polish prime minister raised eyebrows in Brussels and is expected to fail when the 28 heads of the member states gather in the EU capital later this week to make a decision.

The bloc, battling a number of internal and external crises, is hugely unwilling to be drawn into a battle that is rooted deeply at a personal level inside Poland’s domestic political scene. Warsaw's effort to disrupt the process has drawn a furious reaction from figures in Brussels, and done little for already strained relations.

The unusual decision not to support a national politician for an influential post in the EU clearly stems from the personal animosity between Tusk and the chairman of Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Although he does not hold a government post, Kaczynski is the de facto ruler of the country.

Kaczynski’s previous stint in power in Poland was ended by Tusk who led his centrist-conservative party Civic Platform (PO) to victory in 2007. Kaczynski also considers Tusk complicit in the death of the chairman’s twin brother, former president Lech Kaczynski, in a plane crash in Russia in 2010. 

Kaczynski and PiS favour a conspiracy theory that the president was assassinated, while the Polish investigation into the crash established with little doubt the crash owed to a pilot error. Tusk fell further out of PiS’ favour when he criticised the PiS government’s anti-democratic drive last year.

Saryusz-Wolski was a long-standing member of PO until last weekend and of the European People’s Party (EPP), PO’s grouping in the European Parliament, until March 6. It is unclear whether he quit or was dismissed.

The head of the European Council can serve up to two 2.5-year terms. The official is elected by a simple majority of votes among the 28 member states of the EU.

Illustrating the weakness of Poland's position, most of Poland's peers in the Visegrad Four were quick to side with Brussels. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia spent March 6 pledging their support for Tusk.

The grouping of Central European countries has been pushed by Poland and Hungary as the base of a "revolution" that should work for deep seated reform of the EU to return power to national capitals. However, disparate interests dominate, with the Czechs and Slovaks seeking to distance themselves from the rabble rousing in order to cement closer ties with core EU states, and Germany in particular.

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek made clear Prague sees no advanatage in Warsaw's gambit. "If there were other candidates, it could have a very unpleasant result," he said according to Reuters. "I am afraid that this can result in central and eastern Europe losing its representative, and I would consider that a serious mistake."


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