EU's Tusk Re-elected Despite Polish Resistance
April 6, 2017
European Union leaders on March 9 reappointed Donald Tusk as president of the European Council for another term of office despite strong opposition from the Euroskeptic government of his native Poland.
Poland’s ruling conservatives tried but failed in their diplomatic efforts to install MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski to the post instead of Tusk.
Two days before the vote, Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydło wrote a letter to European heads of state, urging them not to re-elect Tusk as European Council head in view of Poland’s opposition. She said that Tusk, a centrist politician and a former prime minister of Poland, had violated his mandate by interfering in domestic politics and that he was not impartial.
“He does not have the support of his home country—that’s reason enough for him not to be appointed,” Szydło said. The letter was reportedly seen in Brussels as an attempt to transfer domestic politics to the European scene.
During the reappointment vote Tusk enjoyed the support of all EU member states but Poland. The leaders voted 27 to one. According to EU rules, Tusk only needed a large majority.
President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania told reporters that EU leaders should not become “hostages of national politics inside Poland.”
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that consultations preceding Tusk’s reappointment had shown “very solid support” for him and underlined that one country cannot block a decision. Muscat called Tusk “a strong man, with strong European convictions.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that, although several member nations are unhappy that all major EU posts are held by members of the centre-right European People’s Party, “they don't want to sacrifice President Tusk because of that, because they think he has done a good job.”
There had been some suggestion that the UK might abstain from the vote to win Polish support in Brexit negotiations, but eventually British PM Theresa May voted for Tusk. May had “actively supported him” and was “pleased he’s re-elected,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Even Hungary’s PM Viktor Orbán, one of the closest allies of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, decided to stand by Tusk. Orbán’s party Fidesz belongs to the European People’s Party, of which Tusk also is a member.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she saw Tusk’s re-election as a sign of stability for the entire European Union and that she looked forward to continuing working with him.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands called Tusk “a decent and effective president.”
After Tusk’s reappointment, Poland’s Szydło said she would refuse to sign off on the summit’s final statement in protest. “Poland has a right to veto the conclusions, and Poland is exercising that right. By vetoing the EU summit conclusions, Poland would make them invalid,” she said.
Belgium’s Michel said that Szydło had taken a childish attitude while French President François Hollande reportedly implied that the Polish government should have adopted a different attitude while still receiving a huge amount of EU funds. He allegedly told Szydło: “You have your rules, we have structural funds.”
Commenting on Tusk’s re-election, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński said that this appointment showed the EU was dominated by Germany. In the days preceding the vote Tusk was called “the German candidate” by PiS politicians in an attempt to question his loyalties. After the result of the vote was announced Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said, “We know now that the EU is under Berlin’s diktat.”
In response to all the negative comments from his home country, Tusk made a statement dedicated to the Polish government: “Be careful of the bridges you burn, because once they are gone, you can never cross them again,” and added that he hoped to protect his country’s interests.
Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party Civic Platform (PO), said that Tusk’s re-election shows that “the Poles have passed their exam in Europe,” while Ryszard Petru, leader of the second-largest opposition party Nowoczesna, called the result of the March 9 vote a huge diplomatic embarrassment and said that Waszczykowski should resign.
Tusk’s first term ends on May 31, and he will now stay in office until Nov. 30, 2019.