WARSAW – European Union leaders are set to announce their choice for President of the European Council at a summit on March 9. Until very recently, the reelection of the incumbent, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, seemed certain: the outgoing French president, François Hollande, former Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel tested the waters, but preliminary polling showed none of them standing a chance.
But then, on February 27, the Financial Times reported that the Polish government was sounding out the possibility of presenting an alternative candidate, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, an MEP from Civic Platform, the party Tusk founded. In the European Parliament, Saryusz-Wolski is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), which he served as Vice Chair until November 2016.
Less than a week later, on March 4, the FT’s report was borne out. The leadership of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party instructed Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government to withhold support for Tusk’s reelection. The same day, the foreign ministry issued a diplomatic note proposing Saryusz-Wolski. A half-hour later, Saryusz-Wolski confirmed it on Twitter. He was immediately expelled from Civic Platform, and the EPP’s chairman, Joseph Daul, reaffirmed his party’s full support for Tusk.
With all EU members except Poland supporting Tusk, denying him a second term would require an extraordinary justification. The PiS has not provided one. Indeed, until now, the PiS had failed to formulate any clear position regarding Tusk’s candidacy. So why has it suddenly become such a high priority to block him?