“Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who’ll get the blame.” The words of philosopher Bertrand Russell which, albeit tending to cynicism, is probably true. As L.P. Hartley began the Go Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”, and so is Poland, where democracy is the process by which the man they did not choose to be the de facto, if not de jure, prime minister and president combined decides who will get the blame. And that man is former Polish prime minister and current president of the European Council, Donald Tusk to whom Kaczynski is implacably opposed, holding him “morally responsible” for the death of his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, in a plane crash in Russia in 2010, when Tusk was Polish prime minister. Polish and Russian investigations blamed pilot error.
The Polish government of the Law and Justice party (PiS) has now officially said that Poland will not support Donald Tusk’s bid for a second term as president of the European Council on the expiry of his current 30 month term on 31st May. Among the many things of which PiS accuses Tusk, violating the principle of neutrality against a Member State, engaging in “EU actions against Polish interests”, and supporting the Polish opposition rank high. Tusk co-founded the Civic Platform (PO) party, now the largest opposition grouping in the country’s parliament, which he led before going to Brussels.
According to PiS spokeswoman Beata Mazurek, PO represents “a special kind of opposition, which does not hide its anti-state character”, and at least two senior PiS officials think that MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski would be a better candidate for European Council president than Tusk. The Financial Times has reported that Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has sounded out other EU member states over a proposal to replace Tusk with Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a PO MEP, who was this week expelled from the party and left the EPP group in the European parliament which supports Tusk’s candidature. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński said in January that Poland should not support Tusk’s bid since. “He is in favour of solutions that are extremely harmful to Poland,” such as financial penalties for European Union member states that do not accept a quota of refugees, a move the Polish government opposes. “We simply cannot support such a person,” he added.
Needless to say, this approach has found little favour elsewhere. In Brussels on Sunday to meet foreign ministers from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski sought to persuade them to support Saryusz-Wolski. “This is our candidate and he is in the game. This is the only Polish candidate right now for the post of the European Council head. There is no other Polish candidate,” he said. Waszczykowski refused to say whether any other country backed Saryusz-Wolski, and the other ministers did not offer any public support.
Indeed, at a meeting of the V4 leaders in Warsaw last week, there was no agreement to oppose Tusk. The Czech minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, said on Monday that the easterners had much to lose. “If there were other candidates, it could have a very unpleasant result… I am afraid that this can result in central and eastern Europe losing its representative, and I would consider that a serious mistake,” he said.
The decision is expected this Thursday. While unanimity would have been the preferred option, a majority vote is enough to keep Tusk. Waszczykowski suggested the decision could be delayed, but Zaoralek said that would risk opening a Pandora’s box. No third candidate has emerged so far. “There is a majority for Tusk, and pleasing Kaczynski is not on everyone’s mind in Brussels,” said a senior diplomat from one of the other states that took part in the Sunday dinner. Another senior diplomat said agreeing to a third candidate to appease Poland, or delaying the decision beyond Thursday, would be succumbing to blackmail.
Be that as it may, the simple fact is that as president of the European Council Tusk has to reflect that body’s views. It is not for any EU official to adopt a view which favours the domestic agenda of the government of his home country but rather to promote the interests of the EU as whole. For a government of intelligent folk to be in willful ignorance of this simple fact is remarkable. But if one allows oneself to be governed by the petty petulance of the prima donna, anything is possible. Even once more plucking defeat from the jaws of victory.