No Second Term

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” The words of William Shakespeare which, as a guide to life, seems as good as any. Of course, not everybody agrees with the Bard, perhaps none less than some Polish politicians for whom something has been lost in translation with love a few, trust none, do wrong to all being a more useful vade mecum. Thus the apparent decision that the Polish government will, according to Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, not support Donald Tusk for a second term as president of the European Council.

Before becoming president of the European council, which term of office ends next year, Tusk was prime minister of Poland from 2007 to 2014, and had earlier co-founded the Civic Platform (PO) party, in opposition since the election last year which brought PiS to power. Speaking to the wSieci weekly, Kaczyński said that: “This is a man who, according to my knowledge, could face criminal charges”, adding that these could relate to the 2010 Smolensk plane crash as well as other issues. PiS has started investigations into the 2010 Smolensk crash, which killed the then President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, as well as into the collapse of the Amber Gold pyramid scheme, both of which happened while Tusk was prime minister.

Polish politicians have been divided – no change there – on the question of supporting Tusk’s candidature for a while. Even before Kaczyński’s statement, PiS politicians had been suggesting that the government would not support Tusk for a second term in office. PiS members of parliament say that Tusk should not be president of the European Council since, in their opinion, he has done little for Poland since his appointment in 2014.

In contrast, the leading opposition members of parliament claim that the Poles should be supported by all political parties when it comes to occupying important positions within the EU. At one point the Polish president appeared to take a similar view on the importance of having Poles in important positions.

But is it not the whole point that those occupying senior positions with the EU are required to owe their first loyalty to the EU as a whole, and not to pursue narrow national interest while in office? Whatever one’s view of the EU, that is surely the better policy, whatever horse trading goes on elsewhere. This is a point of good governance, like many others, alas, which seems to have evaded the great minds of the government as it struggles with the other calls on its collective intellect. And, to be fair, the British concept of the disinterested administration of power has long been seen rather differently in much of continental Europe.

It would be naïve to suggest that the workings of the EU actually achieve these ideals and the choice of EU Council president reflect what suits the EU member states as a whole or, more accurately, Germany and one of two other larger member states. The UK was one of those two or three larger states whose opinion mattered. It is therefore an irony that while Brexit reflected a frustrated belief that the EU is an anti-British plot, other member states saw it in different terms, and the single market in particular as a dastardly Anglo Trojan horse to allow rampant capitalism into the more caring, sharing EU arrangements. Well, like the Aesop’s fable of the man, his father and the donkey, you cannot keep everybody happy at the same time.

But I digress. The fact is that what we have here is political sectarianism at its typical best. There may be better candidates than Tusk, he may or may not have been a success in the job, but to purport to criticise him for complying with the rules and not favouring Poland above others, lies somewhere between ignorance and childishness.

Be that as it may, 2016 has been a year of surprises, or shocks depending on one’s point of view, and there seems little reason to think that 2017 will not also be an annus mirabilis or annus horribilis according to taste. If so, we need to remember where we started and take to heart those words of Shakespeare.

Thank you for reading in 2016. I wish you a happy new year.

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