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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Will Tusk take over from van Rompuy, and what would it mean for Cameron?

Tusk and Merkel "discuss the World Cup" ahead of today's
European Council summit (h/t Maciek Sokolowski)
Yesterday, we reported that Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini's bid to become the next EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs has run into trouble due to her perceived lack of robustness vis-a-vis Russia and Putin, with around ten or eleven countries - mostly from central and eastern Europe - opposing her candidacy. We argued that one way to try to square the circle would be to appoint someone from that region as European Council president to replace Herman van Rompuy, with Polish PM Donald Tusk the most credible candidate.

Today's Rzeczpospolita splashed the news that Merkel was urging Tusk to take the European Council President post and a few hours ahead of the European Council summit this scenario remains very much in play:
It is understandable why this 'dream ticket' could generate widespread support - it ticks a number of boxes; at least one top post goes to a woman, one to someone from central and eastern Europe, an experienced politician as European Council President and a relatively junior one as High Rep. It is clear why Merkel - who has good relations with Tusk - is pushing his candidacy.

So why is Tusk resisting? Well, the main reason - aside from his lack of language skills - is that he has no immediate successor as Polish Prime Minister (not least because he has culled any potential challengers) and Polish domestic politics are particularly precarious in the wake of the Wprost tapes scandal. Law and Justice are currently leading in the polls and it is not clear whether the government would be able to hang on without fresh elections in the event of a Tusk departure. Moreover, Tusk himself feels he still has unfinished business in Poland.

Nonetheless, Mutti can be very persuasive so it cannot be completely discounted, and van Rompuy's successor does not take over until November, which leaves a bit of time for a transition. Given that the role will be very important in broking David Cameron's potential renegotiation, what would it mean if Tusk got the job?

Well let's start with the positives - like the UK, Poland is a non-euro country so shares concerns about eurozone integration potentially disadvantaging non-euro members. Poland is also economically liberal and backs further expansion of the single market and the EU-US free trade deal (TTIP). Poland and the UK have also been close allies on Energy issues and with Russia having emerged as a common concern, both recently worked together to push the EU to adopt a tougher position on Russia. Finally, if Tusk were to get the job, he would be keen to stay close to Merkel, something Cameron could use to his advantage.

However, on the whole, a Tusk Presidency may not be good for Cameron; the two have a strained relationship, exacerbated in recent times by the row over EU free movement and Cameron's (ill-advised) comments about Poles claiming UK benefits (Tusk's former spokesperson Pawel Gras claimed the Polish PM had a proper f****** go at Cameron over these). Moreover, while Cameron and Tusk may agree on specific issues, Tusk is dismissive of Cameron's broader argument that the EU is need of fundamental reform and he is therefore unlikely to go out of his way to help him get significant concessions - Cameron would therefore need to ensure he has enough support among other national leaders to negate this factor.    


Rollo said...

For all his faults, Tusk is at least a good judge of character: look what he thinks of Cameron!

JMR said...

Putting politics aside for a moment, there is an affinity in the UK with Poland and the Poles stemming from WWII; did not the Nazi invasion of Poland trigger our own entry which subsequently led many Poles to come here and continue fighting? Later many remained here having married British girls. The recent further "invasion" by the Poles never worried me because I have come to regard them as 'two of a kind' with us

Rollo said...

I agree with JMR on this one. The Poles were our very good allies. We treated the abominably after the war, when Churchill ceded to Stalin and refused the Poles to march in our victory parade (look it up, I know this is hard to believe). I have no trouble with any Pole who wants to come here and work. But the Polish leadership was weaned under the control of the Soviets, and now, free at last, like battery chickens let out into the sun, they rush in to allow themselves to be ruled by another unelected dictatorship

Average Englishman said...

Yes, we get on well with the Poles, partly for historic reasons and partly because, well, we just do. However, we also have in the UK plenty of friendly Germans, Dutch, Italians, Spanish and even French! The British are not anti-European, particularly on a personal one-to-one basis (this Average Englishman has been mistaken for a German in Austria and elsewhere on more than one occasion) but... and it's a big but, one cannot just set politics aside. Just because we in the UK can get on with our neighbours (my recollection of history is that others started the wars in Europe of late and that the UK population with a little help from our buds in the Commonwealth and the US did a wonderful job at great cost to achieve peace), does not mean to say that we want to be ruled by them and permit them unlimited access to our country.

Sadly, politics cannot be just set aside when the likes of the EUSSR are set upon establishing a new (albeit very outdated in our modern global society) empire with the UK as a vassal state. So, when the UK leaves the EUSSR (please God make it soon) we can still welcome as many Poles and other nationalities to our shores AS WE LIKE, not as many as Juncker and his unelected cronies would like. We can also find out better just how well we might get on with the Mexicans, the Chinese, the Indonesians, etc., etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

Tusk in this role would be another slap in the face for Cameron and Britain - He is no allie to us.

Why are all those shown to be against Britain getting all the top jobs?
It's all to do with making sure the UK's pays the heaviest possible price for resisting fedrealism, but also to make sure that it becomes very hard for the UK to actually leave the EU.