The Brief: Tusk will be elephant outside EU summit room

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

TUSK WILL BE ELEPHANT OUTSIDE EU SUMMIT ROOM

The one nailed-on certainty about tomorrow’s EU summit is that Donald Tusk will still be European Council president on Friday.

Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has put forward little-known MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski as a rival candidate to Tusk. The expected rubber-stamping of Tusk’s presidency is in doubt.

The odds are stacked against the rebellious Poles, who only have Hungary in their corner. There is, after all, no other candidate being seriously considered.

But even if they manage to unseat their former prime minister on Thursday, Donald will only be packing his bags in May at the earliest.

The tilt at Tusk is unprecedented, one senior EU diplomat said. There are a lot of theories flying around, the diplomat added, including whispers of the Polish ambassador taking a fictional phone call at the meeting to stall the process.

“No one knows what the Poles will do,” the diplomat added, “but there is a strong degree of support for Tusk.”

Other diplomats said they expected Tusk to be re-appointed by the EU leaders. No discussion of Saryusz-Wolski’s candidacy is planned.

“Saryusz-Wolski is an unknown to the quasi-totality of heads of states,” one diplomat intoned.  “It is an implicit quality to have been a member of the European Council before taking the presidency.”

The elephant himself will not be in the room because Tusk will step outside during the negotiations.

European Council presidents are meant to be appointed by consensus. So what do you do with a problem like Poland?

If Szydlo sticks to her guns, member states, keen to resolve the matter tomorrow night, could force a vote and sacrifice the much cherished consensus method.

There is a precedent for this. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Hungary’s Viktor Orban were overruled 26-2 in a vote on Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as European Commission president.

Sources said the Cameron option was on the table but the preference is that all 28 member states back Tusk.

On Friday, leaders of the EU-27 will discuss plans for the 25 March celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. The intention is to show a united front.

But if those same leaders have isolated and overuled Poland less than 24 hours previously, all the fine words planned about post-Brexit unity will ring hollow.

THE ROUNDUP

It was a busy day for senior EU diplomats. One whispered that Article 50 would be triggered after the Rome Summit but before the end of the month.

Berlin is still worrying the Commission with its hopes of setting up an IMF-style ‘European monetary fund’ and the Polish government is trying to give its parliament bigger influence over the judiciary.

The EPP wants a vision of multi-speed Europe “that delivers” but there are concerns it will lead to a new West-East divide.

European Parliament Vice-President Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso said the EU has to counter the “big lies” coming out of Moscow and Washington, while the threat of an EU-US trade war still looms large.

Six Eastern European countries have asked the US for help combatting Russian interference, including cyber-attacks, while the Council summit will discuss third-party election activism on its territory. The Turkish government is currently campaigning in favour of constitutional reform.

The Dutch elections are next week and the far-right Party for Freedom could emerge as the big winner, so MEPs and local mayors from across Europe have met to discuss how to defeat Euroscepticism.

Hungary may have won final approval from the Commission on its new nuclear plant but it’s going to saddle Budapest with a lot more debt.

EU consumer agencies are going to seek compensation for drivers that bought VW cars with cheat devices and Barcelona is going to ban old cars from its streets in an effort to curb air pollution.

A new project hopes to increase female participation in Brussels’ expert panels, which are often dubbed “manels”.

LOOK OUT FOR…

It’s European Council day in Brussels tomorrow. On the agenda is Tusk’s future, the Western Balkans, a touch of trade, a mite of migration, and a dab of defence.

Views are the author’s.

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