Tusk row tests EU unity

Danny Kemp –
Arow over Poland’s bid to replace EU President Donald Tusk threatens to overshadow a summit this week that was meant to focus on post-Brexit unity.
Most of the 28 European Union leaders had hoped to push through Polish ex-premier Tusk’s re-election with a minimum of fuss so they could concentrate on a host of challenges.
But instead, the two-day summit starting on Thursday risks being consumed by splits along old east-west lines as the eurosceptic Polish government proposes a rival candidate, with support from Hungary.
The leaders also face rifts over Britain’s exit as they meet without Prime Minister Theresa May to draw up plans to mark the EU’s 60th birthday in Rome later this month. Unity is at a premium for the EU as it deals with challenges including Britain’s departure, Russian aggression and new US President Donald Trump. Centrist former Polish premier Tusk has broad support among the leaders for a second mandate until 2020 for his handling of crises including migration and Greek debt.
But Poland’s right-wing governing Law and Justice party surprised many by suddenly proposing Euro-MP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski instead of Tusk, its long and bitter foe. “Tusk has a very strong position,” an EU official said, as Poland has no veto in the decision and is likely to be supported only by Hungary, led by the eurosceptic Viktor Orban.
Under EU rules it would need a majority of at least 72 per cent of the 28 leaders, representing at least 65 per cent of the EU population, a European Council official said. But there is disquiet at the way an internal political feud has spread to the European stage at a time when it is meant to be giving the impression of unity.
Tusk has been at odds with Law and Justice for years, especially Kaczynski who accuses him of “moral responsibility” for his twin brother and then-president Lech Kaczynski’s death in a 2010 plane crash in Russia. The Tusk issue highlights a growing split between the older, western EU nations and the poorer, newer countries in the East, especially on issues such as migration. This is also likely to figure when 27 EU leaders meet without Britain on Friday to discuss the March 25 summit in the Italian capital marking the 60th anniversary of the EU’s founding Treaty of Rome.
The “big four” EU economies — Germany, France, Italy and Spain — said at a meeting in Versailles on Monday that they supported countries being able to integrate at different speeds. But Eastern European nations have strongly opposed any such move. — AFP