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War between Tusk and Kaczynski: Why Polish conflict is dangerous for Europe

Author : Maksim Samorukov

14:10, 13 March 2017
War between Tusk and Kaczynski: Why Polish conflict is dangerous for Europe

Author : Maksim Samorukov

The conflict between Poland and the EU regarding the president of the Council of Europe (re-elected Tusk) did not come from scratch

14:10, 13 March 2017

 Read the original text at Carnegie.ru.

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It is hard to say when the EU has so strongly and demonstratively demeaned one of its member countries, as it did yesterday with Poland, during the election of the president of the Council of Europe. Perhaps Austria experienced something similar in 2000, when nobody wanted to communicate with its leaders after they took the ultra-right Party of Freedom to the government. But since then, the EU has tried not to bring anyone to a complete loss of its public face. Even when the small Czech Republic alone blocked the ratification of the long-suffering Lisbon Treaty, Brussels patiently negotiated with the Czechs and eventually agreed to several symbolic concessions.

Related: Poland officially refused to support Tusk in EC President re-election

The EU did not soften its blow the Poles. It scornfully dismissed Polish objections, all their naive maneuvers and embarrassing behind-the-scenes negotiations, and within minutes, re-elected hated by Warsaw Donald Tusk as the president of the European Council. After losing the dispute over the Constitutional Court to the Polish government, Brussels managed to win back the fight for one of the main posts in the EU, turning the blows exchange into a basic format of Polish-EU relations.

Liberum veto

The conflict between Poland and the EU regarding the president of the Council of Europe did not come from scratch, but from the point of trust between the parties. The European Council is the most important institution in the EU. Real heads of state and ministers gathered there, not powerless European bureaucrats. All serious decisions of the EU are taken there. Of course, the president of the European Council has limited influence on the outcome of the meetings, but this post is the most important in the European bureaucracy and comparable only with the head of the European Commission.

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In 2014, Brussels has nominated Donald Tusk, the then prime minister of Poland, for the presidents of the European Council in order to convince the countries of Eastern Europe that they have become a full-fledged part of the EU. The high post was the award for the pro-European policy of Tusk, which successfully helped the EU resolve conflicts not only with Poland, but also with other challenging countries in Eastern Europe.

Related: Poland starts project on gas connection with Ukraine

In the spring of this year, Tusk's term expired, and it was necessary to decide on his re-election for a second term or bringing someone else to this post. Both options could go quite smoothly, but in 2015, the government changed, and the Sejm, the government, and the president came under the control of Tusk's longstanding foe, Jaroslav Kaczynski, and his Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość , PiS) party. Therefore, both Poland and the EU run heads against a wall, turning an insignificant procedure of the election of the president of the European Council almost into reason for Polexit.

In this conflict, the behavior of Poland, which flatly refused to support Tusk, showed to what extent the Polish leadership has turned into a puppet theater. It turned out that Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who does not occupy any official posts in the executive branch (he is just an MP), could “squeeze” any decision that is harmful to Poland's interests. Foreign Ministry, the government, the office of the president, the ruling party representatives cannot say a word against the most absurd whim of Kaczynski. On the contrary, they might use the full power of the state machine to fulfill this caprice.

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It was known for a long time that in the spring of 2017 there will be a harsh question about the possible re-election of Tusk. The term of the president of the European Council is fixed, it is two and a half years. Before knowing about Kaczynski’s decision, other representatives of the Polish leadership did not intend to turn Tusk's re-election into a mortal battle with Brussels. Everyone understood that resistance will not bring anything but shame. So it would be better to use the situation to at least mitigate disputes with the EU in other areas. Representatives of the ruling party publicly stated that Tusk should be supported.

Related: March participants shouted "Death to Ukrainians" near Ukrainian center in Polish city Przemysl

But shortly before the election Kaczynski decided that support of Tusk unacceptable. Because reputational losses for Poland are nothing compared to those sins, of which Kaczynski accuses Tusk (creation of mafia capitalism, corruption, anti-Polish activities in Brussels, and deal with Putin to organize a plane crash near Smolensk, as a result of which Polish president and twin brother of Оaroslav Kachinsky, Leh, was killed).

Disagreements within the leadership of Poland were squeezed out by a demand to choose European deputy Jacek Emil Saryusz-Wolski the president of the European Council.

It is unlikely that Kaczynski, for all his inexperience in international affairs, failed to understand the absurdity of such a demand. Apparently, the calculation was that the more controversial discourse surrounds the candidacy of Tusk, the less is his chance for re-election.

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And it does not matter who is elected the president of the Council of Europe, most importantly, this would not be Tusk. There were some hopes that Hungary and the UK could support Poland's resistance. Because each of them has so many conflicts with Brussels, that it would bring them some pleasure.

However, hopes did not materialize: the clumsy Polish diplomacy was not supported by any EU country. All the 27 members, almost without a debate, unanimously approved the re-election of Tusk for one more term. They did not even listen to Poland's requests, at least to postpone the vote, because Tusk's powers expire only in May. The question is already settled, do not take our time; we have to follow the rules, so we proceed to the next question.

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The right Poles

Is more or less clear that Poland did not benefit from this conflict. Unprecedented international humiliation, isolation in the EU, hostile president of the European Council. But Brussels also allowed Kaczynski to manipulate, and it did not benefit from this dispute too.

There was no tradition of re-election of the European Council president. The predecessor of Tusk Herman van Rompuy has been holding this post for one term. In 2016, before Kaczynski announced his objections, the EU has been actively discussing some other candidates. It believed that Tusk was center-right representative, as well as European Commission President Junker and the Speaker of the European Parliament (Antonio Tajani). Therefore, the post of the President of the European Council should belong to left, for example, Hollande, who would end his presidential term in France soon.

And certainly it would happen, but Warsaw began its activities. Polish leadership could not remain silent, and the possible replacement of Tusk was immediately equated with drumming up Kaczynski's blackmail. After that, no one was really thinking whether Tusk was needed this post or not; the main thing was to take a step, which would not be favorable for Warsaw. Warsaw, which does not respect independent courts, introduces censorship in the media, and does not want to cooperate with Brussels at all. However, additional humiliation of the Polish government would not add to the courts more independence.

Related: Smolensk plane crash: Russia hands all records from ‘black boxes’ to Poland, - Russian FM

By and large, Tusk's re-election was absolutely meaningless, because he ceased to fulfill his main function, for which he was appointed president of the European Council in 2014. Having fallen into such a high position, he had to show that Eastern Europe is a full-fledged part of the European Union. But now it looks vice versa. That the Eastern European countries are not able to put national interests above the party ones, that they endure personal squabbles at a pan-European level, that they must be constantly taught, instructed, and punished.

In the end, what can Tusk do better than the other well-experienced European politician? Nothing. He was re-elected simply because it was the matter of growing conflict between Brussels and Warsaw. And the Brussels approval of Tusk is the same demonstration of emotions, just like Kaczynski demonstrated his own emotions.

More importantly, the president of the European Council represents y a party, which has lost all possible elections in Poland. That is, the Polish society and Brussels choose so incompatible politicians that they are not able to agree on anything even at the international level. Moreover, by its decision Brussels directly tells the Polish society that their vote is incorrect. That the Poles are not able to choose a “normal” leadership, and Brussels knows more who should represent Poland in the EU.

Related: Labor migration from Ukraine to Poland: From temporary to permanent

A new niche is being formed in European politics. These are people who have lost everything in their homeland, but their positions are gladly accepted by Brussels, so they are the ones who represent the respective countries. Other EU countries that easily supported Tusk might occur in the same position as Poland.

Revenge of the disappointed parties

The vote on Tusk's re-election was very quick, and no one paid special attention to the rival candidate, offered by Warsaw, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski. And his participation in this venture also tells us a lot about the crisis in relations between Brussels and Eastern Europe.

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Saryusz-Wolski is not a technical figure, not obedient puppet of Kaczynski. Prior to this conflict, he was a member of Tusk’s "Civil Platform", not in Kaczynski’s PiS. Saryusz-Wolski is one of the most respected diplomats in Poland, and he is respected in all the parts of the political spectrum. Now he is a member of the European Parliament, and he was the main representative of Poland at the talks on joining the EU in 1990s-2000s.

Agreeing to participate in the adventure of Kaczynski, Saryusz-Wolski should understand that the post of the president of the Council of Europe would not belong to him under any circumstances. He was unlikely to be attracted by a possibility to become the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, because Kaczynski’s government is a place for resigned performers, not for self-realization. You cannot call him a fanatical Eurosceptic, because he has spent a significant part of his life trying to get Poland to join the EU. Nevertheless, in recent years, Saryusz-Wolski has changed his attitude to the EU so much that he could not cope with such anti-Brussels antics.

Related: Russia does everything to embroil Ukrainians and Poles, - Polish Ambassador

And not only Saryusz-Wolski has experienced this evolution from Euro-enthusiasm to Euroscepticism. Kaczynski and Orban belong to the generation of East European politicians who 15 years ago were ecstatic about the EU. They were ready for any concessions for their countries could join the European Union. And now what? Now they are the main Eurosceptics, constantly conflicting with Brussels, blaming it for arrogance, excessive interference, and double standards. There is a deep disappointment throughout the region, and there is no any resolution.

The current EU dispute with Warsaw will only strengthen this rejection. Perhaps Brussels hopes that by re-electing Tusk would show Kaczynski his place, make him feel more constructive. But we know Kaczynski's style, most likely, everything will be vice versa.

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a very persistent and vindictive politician who, is ready to violate any rules in order to reach the goal. Just remember how in 2010, President Lech Kaczynski, trampling all possible points of the diplomatic protocol, without an invitation from the Russian side, went on a visit to Smolensk to prevent the then Prime Minister Tusk from alone participating in the mourning ceremonies in Katyn. The visit ended with a tragedy, and Jaroslaw, contrary to common sense, continues to blame Tusk and Putin of organizing it.

Kaczynski will not forget the humiliation of Brussels, re-electing Tusk. He will fight further, even in the most insane ways. It is said that Warsaw might even boycott all events involving Tusk. Or that the Polish authorities will issue a warrant for the arrest of Tusk - whether for participation in any corruption scam, or for the Smolensk plane crash. And of course, Warsaw will become even more uncooperative on all-European issues.

Such a revenge of Kaczynski would mostly harms Poland itself, and would create new challenges for the EU, deepening the split and misunderstanding between Western and Eastern Europe.

Related: Donald Tusk stood up for Polish opposition

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