What should have been a simple 5 minutes formality, at the EU summit on Thursday evening, in order to reconfirm Donald Tusk as president of the EU Council for 2 1/2 years became a continental psychodrama, after the personal opposition of the powerful leader of Poland’s governing parti PiS, Jaroslav Kaczyński.
Kaczyński personally hates Tusk, whom he holds morally responsible for his twin brother’s death in the 2010 crash of Poland’s presidential jet in Smolensk, Russia, in which Lech, his brother, who was then head of state, died along with 95 other high-ranking officials affiliated with the party.
Initially, in 2014, Tusk’s nomination as president of the European Council was hailed as a gesture of symbolic reunification of the continent. A Pole was wanted from the beginning for such an important, continent-mending job. Had he lived, the late Bronislaw Geremek would have made an obvious candidate.
Who is this man with a name that one cannot forget: Donald Tusk? No, his father was not a Disney fan, given that, born in 1930, the father was called Donald too. As for Donald Jr., he was born in 1957 in a Kashubian-speaking family. (The Kashubians are a minority speaking a Slavic language that is close to Polish, but has more archaic features and was heavily influenced by German.)
Donald studied history, and started his political activity supporting Solidarity. He met powerful intellectual figures, such a Bronislaw Geremek. He then became a journalist and one of the founders of the Polish Civic Platform.
As Polish prime minister, Tusk has at times stirred concern and controversy, by appearing to support some sort of Internet censorship, as he announced that he wanted to ban Internet gambling and to monitor Internet connections and money transfers. He also opposes the legalisation of marijuana and of euthanasia, largely practiced in the Benelux countries, and especially in Belgium, the country hosting the EU institutions.
Tusk supported the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, and has even said that he found that all the indignation about Orban’s authoritarian tendencies was “exaggerated”.
Tusk lost the presidential election to Lech Kaczyński în 2005 (cf. photo), then became prime minister in 2007. The rivalry between Tusk and the Kaczyński twins became a permanent political show in Poland.
In 2008, at the October EU summit, both Tusk and the late president Lech Kaczyński fought for the right to sit at the table in Brussels with the other leaders. Tusk refused to let Kaczyński have an official plane and headed himself for Brussels, but Kaczyński chartered his own flight and appeared at the Council, like the ghost of revenge in Hamlet, embarrassing Tusk and everybody else around the table.
As Council president, one finds nothing about EU’s economy in Tusk’s discourse, and also nothing about the Euro and the crisis. Juncker takes care of all that, while Tusk stays in charge of foreign policy. That’s how they split the tasks.
Then again, why would Tusk care about the Euro, given that his country is in no hurry to join the Eurozone? When Tsipras came along with his problems, Tusk simply sent him to the Eurogroup.
What Tusk cares about is the “Russian aggression” in Ukraine: a formula he uses in contrast with the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s more conventional discourse. Tusk is also fond of speaking of “Western civilisation”, which for him includes the US.
Still, everybody wants to keep him, including Theresa May, on her way out from the EU. The answer tonight, when the EU leaders will have to reconfirm him, or find someone else… but that someone else will certainly not be a Pole.