The leaders of the European Union delivered a withering snub to Poland’s right-wing government on Thursday by steamrollering its objections and reappointing former Polish premier Donald Tusk to chair their summits.
Tusk’s successor as prime minister Beata Szydlo, acting on instructions from her party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a long-time political adversary of Tusk, had vowed to prevent him from securing a second 30-month term. But the other 27 leaders wasted no time in moving to a vote in which she was the lone objector.
Warsaw had portrayed the issue as one of fundamental principle, in which vital national interests should be respected and not ignored in Brussels. The crushing defeat highlights how far the biggest of the ex-communist states that joined the EU after the Cold War appears isolated, even from eastern allies.
The row, albeit largely driven by Polish domestic politics, has overshadowed attempts at the meetings in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to rally a common front as Britain prepares to deliver its formal notice that it will exit the bloc in 2019.
Kaczynski said the vote showed the EU was run by Germany but dismissed as “nonsense” any suggestion Poland might quit.
“A very dangerous European relationship is being born — a toxic relationship that could harm many states”, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told news site wPolityce.pl.
Szydlo first tried to get the other leaders to postpone a decision on Tusk but found no backing. They gave her time to repeat her reasons for withholding her support. But then Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who holds the rotating EU chair, moved swiftly to a 27-1 vote to reappoint the 59-year-old Tusk.
Tusk had left the room during the discussion and was greeted with applause as he returned to the chamber. He will play a key role over the next two years in overseeing Brexit negotiations with London, whose prime minister, Theresa May, was attending her last summit before launching the process.
Tusk, who led a centrist government for seven years until 2014, offered an olive branch to Szydlo, telling the Council in broadcast comments that he would work with the leaders “without any exceptions — because I am committed to European unity”.
Szydlo frowned as she listened. Diplomats later said she was refusing to sign off the legal record of the meeting because of a disagreement over a separate point on immigration policy. EU officials said that dispute could not block the decision on Tusk.