Warsaw hits out at Tusk re-election to Brussels post

Other central European countries back incumbent, leaving Poland out in the cold

Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo was alone in voting against Mr Tusk. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo was alone in voting against Mr Tusk. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

A furious Jaroslaw Kaczynski hit out at Germany and Hungary on Friday after his ruling party in Poland failed to block Donald Tusk’s re-election as European Council president in Brussels.

The rant by Mr Kaczynski, national conservative leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, opened a new chapter in Warsaw’s war on Mr Tusk that has little to do with European politics and a lot to do with a long-standing personal vendetta.

Abandoned by other central European “Visegrad” countries – the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo was alone in voting against Mr Tusk.

Bearing flowers, the PiS leader met Mrs Szydlo’s plane for Brussels and praised her for a brave fight “that will remain in our memory and history”.

“Some people would say we have failed, but no: we have shown that Poland matters,” said Mr Kaczynski.

Instead of proof of Polish isolation in Brussels, the PiS leader portrayed the vote as proof of German EU domination, and as the latest in a long line of historical betrayals of Poland.

Mr Kaczynski said he was “disappointed” by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who has defended Warsaw against criticism that its media and judicial reforms have weakened democracy and undermined the rule of law.

But Mr Orban abandoned Poland to back Mr Tusk, former leader of Poland’s Civic Platform (PO) and a sister party to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz in the European People’s Party.

From Warsaw, Mr Kaczynski dismissed claims the vote left Poland isolated in the EU and the central European region and interpreted the vote as further proof of German EU domination, and the latest in a long line of historical betrayals of Poland.

“The European Union is an organisation dominated by one country. We cannot hide that this country is Germany,” said Mr Kaczynski, who regularly rails against Berlin’s domination of Europe.

The PiS leader appeared particularly stung by the lack of backing from Budapest. Since taking office in November 2015, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has defended Warsaw against claims that its media and judicial reforms have weakened Polish democracy and undermined the rule of law.

But on Thursday, Mr Orban abandoned Poland to back Mr Tusk, former leader of Poland’s Civic Platform (PO) and a sister party to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz in the European People’s Party.

Mr Kaczynski said he was “disappointed” by Mr Orban’s attitude.

Personal animosity

For the last seven years Mr Kaczynski has claimed that Mr Tusk, as prime minister for the rival PO, carries moral responsibility for the death of his twin brother in an air crash which two investigations have blamed on poor weather and pilot error.

Kaczynski supporters have taken up his personal vendetta, portraying Mr Tusk as a national traitor, threatening to strip him of his citizenship and put him in prison.

While Mr Tusk’s allies in PO cheered his re-election, analysts said the vote has made for uncertain times ahead.

Thursday’s vote has also brought to the fore long-standing divisions in the central European Visegrad group, with other former communist capitals saying they view Mr Tusk as a useful ally who understands their concerns.

Repatriation of powers

But the next battleground is likely to be the European Commission’s investigation into the rule of law in Poland, which the Brussels executive and human rights groups fear is under threat by a politicised public prosecutor and public media, as well as disputed judicial appointments. Mr Kaczynski has dismissed the investigation as a “joke”, and was relying on Hungary to veto any EU sanctions, support that is no longer certain after Thursday night.

“This sets a new precedent for the whole EU,” said Mr Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.”But mostly it is a bad day and diplomatic disaster for Poland.”

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