By Alastair Macdonald and Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS Poland's prime minister will go head to head with her 27 European Union peers in Brussels on Thursday in a row over the reappointment of the Polish chairman of their summits that has left the other member states bemused.Founded in deep personal animosity toward European Council President Donald Tusk on the part of Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo's right-wing party leader, the clash is casting a shadow over efforts to forge a new unity in the EU as Britain prepares to quit.Diplomats expect a second term for Tusk, a centrist former premier of Poland who was appointed in 2014 before his allies were unseated by his nemesis Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party. But many will not bet as to whether that will take mere minutes or require hours of haggling, perhaps a delay in the decision to a later date or even a real surprise.With British Prime Minister Theresa May attending her last such summit before she formally launches the two-year Brexit process later this month, the remaining 27 EU leaders have bigger problems to worry about. They are due to meet again on Friday without May to prepare for a "unity" summit to be held in Rome on March 25.
But the row with Poland, by far the biggest former communist state in the bloc, is symptomatic of a split between Eastern members reluctant to cede national freedoms to Brussels so soon after shaking off Soviet hegemony, and rich western states that want to deepen EU integration in the hope it can bring prosperity and security and so stem the rise of Brexit-inspired eurosceptics.In theory, Szydlo's is a lost cause since leaders can simply back Tusk in an overwhelming majority vote.
But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose turn it is to chair proceedings, may also seek ways to forge some kind of consensus at the table. Tusk will leave the room as his fate is decided.Kaczynski holds Tusk "morally responsible" for the death of his twin brother. Tusk was prime minister in 2010 when Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president, was killed in an air crash in Russia. Inquiries in both countries blamed the crash on pilot error.In a letter to fellow leaders, Szydlo said Warsaw wants Tusk out because he has criticised policies back home. Others in the EU share Tusk's concern that Kaczynski is undermining Polish democracy, but Szydlo framed her objections to his reappointment in terms of protecting sovereign national powers from Brussels.
The talks on Thursday afternoon should also see agreement on pressing ahead with new free trade pacts despite the appearance of "protectionist tendencies" elsewhere - a reference to European concerns about new U.S. President Donald Trump.Over dinner, leaders are due to pledge continued support - and possible EU and NATO membership - to western Balkan states where they are worried about a possible decline in U.S. interest and a rise what they see as the anti-EU influence of Russia. (Writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by G Crosse)
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2017 07:01:43 IST