Donald Tusk re-elected as European Council president

Polish politician survives attempt by his home country to oust him from the position

European Council president Donald Tusk  has been re-elected.  Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo

European Council president Donald Tusk has been re-elected. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo

 

The leaders of the EU delivered a withering snub to Poland’s right-wing government on Thursday by disregarding its objections and reappointing former Polish premier Donald Tusk as European Council president.

Mr Tusk’s successor as Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, acting on instructions from her party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a long-time political adversary of Tusk, had vowed to prevent him from securing a second 30-month term.

Warsaw had portrayed the issue as one of fundamental principle, in which national objections should be respected and not ignored in Brussels.

However, the other 27 EU leaders had made no secret on arrival at the summit in Brussels that they were exasperated by Warsaw’s tactics.

Even Mr Kaczynski’s closest allies, like Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, had pledged support to Mr Tusk.

According to EU officials, Ms Szydlo tried to get other leaders to postpone the decision on Mr Tusk.

But Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, insisted the vote take place and all 27 other leaders backed the 59-year-old Pole for the position.

Mr Tusk had left the room during the discussion on his appointment and was greeted with applause as he returned to the chamber following the vote.

He will play a key role over the next two years in overseeing Brexit negotiations with London.

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, usually an ally of Poland in EU affairs, tweeted: “Only Poland was against.”

Leaders took barely half an hour to discuss the matter and then continued with other business, notably on the economy.

It was not yet clear whether Ms Szydlo will take further action in protest.

Some diplomats have speculated that Poland might withhold its formal approval of the summit decisions - though that would not legally obstruct Mr Tusk’s second term in office.

Brexit process

With British prime minister Theresa May attending her last such EU summit before she formally launches the UK’s two-year Brexit process later this month, the remaining 27 EU leaders have bigger problems to worry about than the chair of the council.

The leaders will meet again on Friday, minus Ms May, to prepare for a “unity“ summit in Rome on March 25th, the 60th-anniversary of the treaty that laid the EU’s foundation.

The row with Poland, the bloc’s biggest ex-communist state, has highlighted a deepening split between eastern members reluctant to cede national freedoms to Brussels and the richer western states that want to deepen EU integration in the hope of boosting prosperity and security and thus stem the rise of Brexit-inspired eurosceptics.

Talk of a “multi-speed” Europe has intensified in recent months.

Germany’s Angela Merkel and other leaders say allowing states who are willing to do so to pull closer together is crucial to the EU’s survival, but easterners fear they could be left behind in such a move.

Mr Kaczynski holds Mr Tusk “morally responsible” for the death of his twin brother.

Mr Tusk was prime minister in 2010 when Lech Kaczynski, then president of Poland, was killed in an air crash in Russia.

Inquiries in both countries blamed pilot error for the crash.

In a letter to fellow leaders, Ms Szydlo said Warsaw wanted Mr Tusk out because he had criticised government policies in Poland.

Mr Tusk is concerned that Mr Kaczynski is undermining Polish democracy, a view shared by others in the EU, but Ms Szydlo framed her objections to his reappointment in terms of protecting sovereign national powers from Brussels.

Thursday’s talks should see agreement on pressing ahead with new free trade pacts despite “protectionist tendencies” elsewhere - a reference to new US president Donald Trump.

Over dinner, leaders are due to pledge continued support - and possible EU and Nato membership - to western Balkan states who are worried about what they see as the anti-EU influence of Russia.

The leaders will also review plans to curb illegal migration from Libya to Italy.

Arrival figures are already higher this year than for the same period in 2016.

Reuters