While it would be unprecedented for a Council president to be elected despite objections from his own country, Tusk does not need Poland’s support to win a second two-and-a-half-year term. Leaders of the most influential EU powers, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have signaled support for keeping Tusk in the post.
The vote, which requires a qualified majority of the EU’s 28 countries, is expected to take place at a Council summit on March 9. Tusk’s first term expires in May.
A French official, articulating a view shared in other capitals, said there appeared to be “no alternative candidacy to that of Mr. Tusk.”
In a radio interview broadcast Thursday, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, Jarosław Kaczyński, issued his strongest condemnation yet of Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, and said Warsaw could not support him for a new term.
Kaczyński — widely regarded as Poland’s most powerful politician — and Tusk are fierce political rivals. Kaczyński has repeatedly said he holds Tusk “morally responsible” for the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia that killed an entire delegation of high-level Polish officials, including Kaczyński’s twin brother Lech, Poland’s president at the time.
While it is unclear if Poland would vote against Tusk or merely abstain, other EU leaders seem to crave stability at a time when Europe is facing an array of challenges, most immediately the looming start of formal negotiations over Britain’s exit from the bloc.
Kaczyński’s comments may well be aimed at a domestic political audience but they have served, at least initially, to isolate Poland, including from its fellow members of the Visegrád Four — Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — which have each expressed support for Tusk to continue in his post.
Poland, despite the angry invective, has not proposed any alternative candidate and so far Tusk is not facing any formal challenge from the Social Democrats, the chief rival of his political family, the European People’s Party.
After a slow start, Tusk has emerged as a galvanizing force among EU leaders, rallying them to stick together in overcoming a barrage of crises. And while the EU has come under relentless assault from populists, Tusk has laid the groundwork for deeper and closer integration of EU countries — an effort he hopes to cement in March at a celebration of the 60th anniversary of one of the EU’s founding documents, the Treaty of Rome.
Some officials also noted that Poland’s objections would have far more force if Tusk were being elected for the first time, but there was little basis for removing him from the presidency given a general perception of solid job performance. Some officials said Tusk had also made a concerted effort to win support beyond his own EPP group, solidifying his position.
Officially, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is still canvassing EU leaders to gauge their position on Tusk. But several diplomats said their countries firmly supported a second term.
Privately, Hungarian officials have said their government favors Tusk’s re-election, but publicly Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has yet to announce a preference.
“We want Tusk to be re-elected,” said Tomáš Prouza, the Czech Republic’s EU affairs minister. “We think he’s done a very good job at the Council.”
“We need someone like him to defend the EU actively, especially now, with all these doubts on the EU’s transatlantic relation,” Prouza said, adding that his country appreciated the tone of Tusk’s letter ahead of the informal summit in Malta on February 3, and how it “pushed the U.K.”
A Slovak diplomat echoed that point.
“Slovakia is strongly supportive of President Tusk to continue in his current position,” the diplomat said, asking not to be identified because they were speaking about internal Council politics. “He has been doing an excellent job. At this very stage, the EU needs a leader like President Tusk — able to name things as they are, perceptive, genuinely devoted to finding common ground among the member states and strengthening the need for unity.”