This week, the Government of Poland made themselves outliers as the only European Union Member State not to back Donald Tusk for a second term as President of the EU Council. Poland’s right-wing government are political rivals of Tusk’s in domestic politics.
But the remaining 27 states swiftly overwhelmed Poland’s objections, which centred around Tusk’s criticism of the Government’s policies. The Council’s refusal to delay the vote, as requested, in part based on Poland’s shift to the right, with some believing the policies which Tusk has been critical of are a threat to Polish democratic freedoms.
Democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights are conditions of joining the EU.
Australia raised eyebrows when it did not back former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in his bid for United Nations Secretary General in 2016; but, Australia didn’t make a fuss on the international stage. Simply, they put their support in former New Zealand PM Helen Clark and quietly stated that they felt she was a more appropriate candidate.
And, Rudd didn’t get the job. Australia wasn’t alone in the view that he wasn’t the prime choice.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s fierce objections to Tusks second term are poorly timed for the ex-Soviet state. The EU has been fortifying itself since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to hold its founding values closer. And while Poland may be shifting to the right to keep its relationships with Russia open, it doesn’t have the economic clout to sideline its major trading partners in the single market.
Its political isolation could have left it in a less awkward position if the small eastern state hadn’t attempted to threaten a major EU summit to get its way. European diplomacy is conducted on agree-to-disagree terms; diplomatic tantrums are not tolerated. Szydło has found this out the hard way with overwhelming criticism of the move from counterparts and the press alike.
How the Government of Poland reacts to being left out in the cold may provide an insight into how punitive measures against other states in which right-wing populism has found a foothold. It remains to be seen whether they will take the experience as a lesson or isolate themselves further. With neighbours like Hungary also being led to the far-right, there is a chance the east-west split in Europe may widen again to post-cold war levels.
Importantly, all participants are keenly aware of the instability. “I’m sad to say,” Szydło said at her news conference on the Summit, “This reflects that something bad is happening in the EU.”