The Cable

Much to Poland’s Chagrin, Donald Tusk Wins Second Term as European Council President

The former Polish prime minister didn’t get his country’s vote.


You can’t say Poland didn’t try.

But despite their best efforts, Donald Tusk was elected to serve a second term as European Council president on Thursday.

Tusk, who was once Polish prime minister and who comes from the party Civic Platform, which is the opposition to the ruling Law and Justice Party, was staunchly opposed by Warsaw. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had instead asked for all to support Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a member of the European Parliament.

Poland tried to argue that the decision should be delayed, and reportedly hoped that Hungary, its illiberal brother-in-arms, and the United Kingdom, which will need support in impending Brexit negotiations, would join it in voting against Tusk.

Warsaw badly wanted Tusk’s defeat. The power behind the ruling party’s throne, Jaroslaw Kaczyński, blames Tusk for the 2010 Smolensk plane crash that killed his twin brother, who was president at the time. So, too, does the Polish government believe Tusk is using his European Council presidency to interfere in Poland’s domestic politics. What some consider the ruling party’s efforts to undermine rule of law by taking over the constitutional court have been debated extensively in Brussels, though without impact in Poland. Szydlo went so far as to say Tusk could not be voted in without Polish support.

But no such requirement for unanimity exists, and Tusk won his re-election 27-1 (the one belonging, obviously, to Poland).

What Tusk will actually be empowered to do, with Brexit negotiations looming, numerous national elections on the horizon, and the potential of a U.S. ambassador to the EU who has likened the EU to the Soviet Union, is still to be seen. So, too, is the role Poland will play in Brexit negotiations now that UK Prime Minister Theresa May threw her support behind Tusk.

And so, at least at the European Council, support for European federalism and liberalism won the day. And Tusk, who openly said he considered U.S. President Donald Trump a threat, will continue to lead the Council for the next two and a half years.

Or, to quote Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite:

Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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