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Tusk Wins New EU Term, Despite Polish Opposition


Only Poland voted against a second term for European Council President Donald Tusk. (file photo)

BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have confirmed Poland’s former Prime Minister Donald Tusk for his second term as the president of the European Council.

Tusk’s confirmation for another 30-month mandate came despite opposition from the current government of Poland, Tusk’s home country.

A French diplomatic source said EU leaders voted 27-to-1 for Tusk on March 9.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said before the vote that the right-wing government in Warsaw would do "everything to ensure that the reappointment does not take place today."

Some EU officials said Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo tried to get other EU leaders to postpone a decision about Tusk, who is closely tied with the centrist opposition in Poland.

But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, insisted that the vote take place immediately and all 27 other EU leaders supported the 59-year-old Tusk -- including one of the Polish government's closest allies, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Muscat said: "One country or a number of countries might be against that decision, but one country cannot block a decision. There are very clear rules of engagement and rules of procedure which we will follow."

Beata Mazurek, a spokeswoman for Szydlo's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said after the 27-to-1 vote to reappoint Tusk that the decision raised questions about the bloc's unity.

Mazurek said, "We should ask whether the EU can remain united, or whether this situation will not lead to the leaders of individual member states having little say."

For his part, Tusk thanked the other EU leaders for their support. Speaking at a press conference after the first session of the summit, he held out an olive branch to Warsaw, noting that "I will do everything I can to protect the Polish government against political isolation. This is for obvious reasons and I think that I will find a good solution to this."

At the same time, Tusk quoted an old saying, "Be careful of the bridges you burn, because once they are gone you can never cross them again," and dedicated it to the Polish government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said before the decision that Tusk’s reelection would be a "sign of stability" for the bloc.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said before the vote that Tusk was "always fair as chairman with his eye on the ball. In very turbulent times, he has kept a cool head."

Tusk was the prime minister of Poland when Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 other Polish officials were killed in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, in 2010.

Following the vote on the European Council presidency, EU leaders were continuing their summit in Brussels with plans to discuss the situation in the Western Balkans.

Ahead of the talks, Tusk alluded to the negative influence of Russia in the region.

"Tensions and divisions have got out of hand partly because of unhealthy external influences which have been destabilizing several countries for some time," Tush said. "I will propose to leaders that we take action including in our strategic communication."

RFE/RL has learned that the EU is hiring "a couple of people" who will focus on EU strategic communication in the Western Balkans.

The leaders were expected to adopt conclusions seen by RFE/RL in which the European Council "reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans."

The document also stresses "the importance of continuing on the reform path, neighborly relations, and inclusive regional cooperation initiatives."

The Western Balkans includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, and Kosovo.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.