Poland seeks to generate support for challenger to Tusk

AP News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2017 11:31 AM
Poland seeks to generate support for challenger to Tusk

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's surprise counter-candidate to challenge incumbent Donald Tusk for the post of European Council head is "Poland's only candidate in the game," and diplomats are trying to generate support for him, Polish officials said Monday.

Poland has proposed Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, 68, a center-right member of the European Parliament, to succeed fellow Pole Tusk, whose 2 ½-year term ends May 31. Saryusz-Wolski was expelled from the presidency of the European People's Party on Monday, two days after being removed from Poland's Civic Platform party.

He lost standing in both groups because of his decision to challenge Tusk, who was Civic Platform's founder and former leader.

Saryusz-Wolski has been a European Parliament member since Poland's accession in 2004, serving as vice-president from 2004-2007.

A European Union summit on Thursday and Friday will decide on extending the mission of Tusk, who enjoys wide backing in the 28-nation bloc. A general consensus for the post has been the EU tradition, and resistance from his own country might undermine Tusk's position.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski declared that Saryusz-Wolski is "in the game."

"It's obvious he is Poland's candidate and must be taken into consideration," Waszczykowski said, speaking before a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. He added that Poland's diplomats were "taking action" to generate support for the new candidate.

Waszczykowski was meeting with politicians in Brussels Monday, and had met with Benelux and Central Europe diplomats the day before, according to government spokesman Rafal Bochenek. He would not comment on the outcome of the talks.

The conservative ruling team in Warsaw refuses to back a second term for Tusk, saying he supports anti-government opposition in Poland and has failed to protect the country's interests in the EU. It also criticized his backing for a proposal to share the influx of asylum-seekers and migrants among all EU members.

A long-standing political rivalry and animosity between the ruling Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Tusk seems to be at the heart of the issue. Kaczynski accuses Tusk of contributing, through lax security, to the death of his twin, President Lech Kaczynski, in a plane crash in 2010.

But Poland might be isolated in this approach, even among closest allies.

"It will be a serious mistake" if Central Europe loses its representative in such high position, said Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, who added that Tusk understands the region's interests.

Saryusz-Wolski was removed Monday from the executive body of the center-right EPP party. The party is backing Tusk.

"I deeply regret Saryusz-Wolski's disloyalty and disrespect towards the unity and values of his own member parties," EPP President Joseph Daul said in a statement following a meeting with the Pole.

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Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report