Poland Refuses to Back Down on Rival to EU’s Tusk

Jack Taylor/Getty Images

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Poland stuck to its guns Monday over its last-minute proposal of a rival candidate to succeed Donald Tusk as European Council president at a summit this week.

The right-wing government in Warsaw announced on Saturday it wanted Polish Euro-MP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski instead of its bitter long-term foe Tusk, a former Polish premier.

“This (Saryusz-Wolski) is our candidate,” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels.

“This is the only Polish candidate in the race for the European Council president. There is no other Polish candidate.”

He said he was not sure if Saryusz-Wolski would be at Thursday’s summit meeting when the 28 EU leaders decide whether to give Tusk another two-and-a-half year mandate.

Asked which other countries would support Saryusz-Wolski, the Polish foreign minister said: “I’m not interested in who supports him, what interests me is that he is our candidate and that he is running.”

The centre-right European People’s Party group of Euro-MPs is set to decide early this week whether to expel Saryusz-Wolski, one of its vice-presidents, over the decision to stand against Tusk.

The EPP, the biggest group in the European Parliament, says it backs Tusk to stay on.

Meanwhile Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the hardline boss of Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS), said Tusk was the “German candidate”.

Asked whose candidate Tusk would be after Warsaw backed a rival, Kaczynski said: “Angela Merkel’s, he is the German candidate.”

Tusk, a former centre-right Polish prime minister, became president of the European Council, gathering EU heads of state or government, in late 2014.

While EU leaders are almost certain to extend his tenure — Poland does not have the power to veto the decision and he has wide support — Warsaw’s move threatens to create bad blood at a time when the crisis-hit EU can ill afford more internal strife.

Tusk has been sharply at odds with Poland’s rightwing government, especially Kaczynski, over a range of issues including changes to state media and the constitution.

Kaczynski accuses him of bearing “moral responsibility” for the death of his twin brother Lech Kaczynski, who was then president, in an air disaster in 2010 that also killed 95 others.