After PiS took over in late 2015, Donald Tusk has publicly opposed many of the reforms the Polish government tried to implement.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the Netflix series ‘House of Cards’ (if you’re really lucky you’ll have seen the original British version). It seems the sort of power politics Frank Underwood takes part in aren’t limited to TV, as has become apparent to anyone paying attention to the recent selection of the EU Council president.
Just recently, the EU Council re-elected Donald Tusk, the former Prime Minister of Poland, as its president. He has held the office since 2014, and many have speculated whether or not his presidency had been a successful one. Since Mr Tusk been president, Europe has been faced with crises both domestic – Brexit and the ascension of nationalist populist parties, to the global – Russia invading Ukraine, the refugee crisis, and multiple terror attacks. Despite this, almost all member states voted in favour of Donald Tusk’s re-election. Everyone but one- that is, Poland.
So, why did Poland oppose their compatriot? Isn’t it natural that it would be in the interest of the Polish nation to have “their man” on the spot? Well, not entirely. Since the win of Law and Justice in 2015 (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS), Poland has taken a Eurosceptic turn. This is not the main reason they are opposed Tusk’s re-election, however. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the party (and Poland, in all but name) holds Tusk responsible for the death of his brother, Lech, who died on Aprill 10th 2010 when the Polish presidential plane crashed in Smoleńsk, killing all 96 passengers. Additionally, Tusk was also connected to the infamous “bugging affair” (“Afera podsłuchowa”) which featured many members of his cabinet taking party in suspicious interactions with prominent Polish businessmen. Lastly, after PiS took over in late 2015, Donald Tusk has publicly opposed many of the reforms the Polish government tried to implement. In a recent interview, Jarosław Kaczyński accused Tusk of openly interfering as Council president in domestic issues of a member state. This, he says, is not only a disruption of Polish interests but also a breach of EU regulations, where heads of institutions are expected to remain neutral.
Many in Poland speculated that if Tusk lost the diplomatic immunity granted to him as president, he would become vulnerable. This would make it easy for Jarosław Kaczyński to deliver him in front of the State Tribunal and accuse him of neglect and corruption. With that said, even in two and a half years, it’s highly unlikely that Kaczyński would succeed. Firstly, the nature of his accusations are far-fetched emotional antipathies and are not based on hard evidence. Kaczyński, being the most powerful politician in Poland would take a huge risk upon himself if he were to go ahead with his idea. Secondly, and more importantly, Tusk has built a reputation of a respected international officer; he’s especially close to Angela Merkel, the most powerful politician in the EU. Moreover, many diplomats regard Tusk as the right person at the right time. Lastly, the candidate proposed by the Polish government, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski had not been invited to the EU summit in Malta. He was regarded by many as a political featherweight, unable to tackle the current problems of the European Union.
What we learn in “House of Cards” is that politics is not always rational and institutional. Politics is based on personalities, emotions and ideological world-views. Although Jarosław Kaczyński may not have succeeded this time, he is still a force to be reckoned with: he is a wily strategist with a very well organised agenda. Although Tusk will sit comfortably in his seat for the next two years, no EU politician knows what the future will bring and how the political landscape may change in the coming months.
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