For Poland to oppose the reelection of Donald Tusk was a suicide attempt. Wojciech Przybylski writes that only the Prime Ministers from the three other Visegrad Group countries (Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Rep.) might have been able to save the day by claiming that Tusk was the candidate of Central Europe. In the end, however, Poland was outvoted 27-1. Furthermore, Warsaw’s row over the EU President put Prime mister May between a rock and a hard place – between further alienating Brussels and estranging one of the UK’s most sympathetic counterparts in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. 

Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister, got re-elected as the President of the EU. Yet the final nail in the coffin of Poland’s EU diplomacy has been hammered home by Jaroslaw Kaczynński, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

It is almost impossible to explain why Poland did not support the only possible candidate from Central Europe; especially since Warsaw has made this region a pivot of its foreign policy. This move was self-contradictory and, at first sight, improbable, but nonetheless might have effectively ended Donald Tusk’s career as the President of the EU. According to public opinion polls, the Polish people, who are by far the most EU-enthusiastic nation of the Visegrad group, preferred that Donald Tusk remained in his seat. Now they are starting to speculate on what else this government is capable of, while remembering the months-old announcement from Jaroslaw Kaczynski, which has just come true.

A verbal threat had been looming for many months but the general assumption was that Warsaw would not oppose the reelection if it came to a vote. What seemed to be just a diplomatic gamble before, has now become a dreadful reality. For Kaczyński, the opportunity to damage his old political rival was more important than any loyalty he might have to the Central European alliance. Kaczynski was risking that, instead of Donald Tusk, the EU may choose someone indifferent to the special interests shared by the Visegrad Group.

V4 press conference by Kancelaria Premiera, licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

Twisted logic

In fact, Poland’s Visegrad Group partners came in favour of the current president of the European Council. Sadly, the twisted logic of Poland’s leader has revealed itself once again. Earlier he claimed that he can live with lower GDP growth as long as his ideological plan is able to be implemented. However, the question remains what will happen in Poland after Donald Tusk was re-elected. Or perhaps more importantly, what he will be able to do without the domestic support of his presidency? Europe should brace itself, because this may boost the anti-EU sentiment – both in Poland and throughout the EU. At the same time, Tusk’s continued tenure in Brussels gives somewhat of a boost to moderate factions of the Polish political arena and society who oppose the current government.

Symbolic leader

Having a Polish president of the European Council is a symbolic anchor, helping everyone to believe that Poland is not all about Jaroslaw Kaczyński. Losing this post might have strengthened anti-EU factions, which currently only hold a minority. If anti-EU actors were to gain ground, nationalists, both in Poland and across Europe, would have used this occasion to signal how the EU elites are lacking in democratic legitimacy. However false this may be, it should not be underestimated especially before the crucial elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Furthermore, Poland’s row over President Tusk is a bad sign for the Brexit negotiations in so far as petty national politics can prove to be disruptive on a European scale.

Wojciech Przybylski is Editor-in-Chief of Visegrad Insight.

An earlier version of this article was first been published at EuObserver, it gives the views of the author, and not the position of LSE Brexit, nor of the London School of Economics.

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