POLISH Prime Minister Donald Tusk will become the next head of the European Council, and though it is the first time someone from a post-2004 EU member state has reached a top post, it is unlikely to significantly shift the position of the central European region within the EU, analysts say.
EU leaders chose Donald Tusk to succeed Herman van Rompuy in the post of the president of the European Council on August 30. Tusk’s selection was welcomed in Poland, with the media being supportive, at times even “a bit too enthusiastic”, says Dariusz Kałan, a central Europe analyst with the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs. While Tusk’s opponents seek to diminish his achievement, “the dominant opinion is that this is a great success for both Poland and personally for Tusk, who during the last decade underwent a great metamorphosis as a politician and party leader”, Kałan said.
This enthusiasm has partially spilled over into Poland’s neighbouring countries, as Tusk has had the support of his partners from the Visegrad Group (a grouping of four central-European countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) in his bid. Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico called this good news for Slovakia.
“I am particularly pleased that in a few months the Polish PM Donald Tusk will take over the very important post of the president of the European Council,” Fico said following the Brussels summit on August 29, adding that this is exactly in line with the strategy that the Visegrad Group has set out. Fico stressed his very friendly personal relations with Tusk, which he says will allow him to negotiate with the president of the European Council on a more personal level as well.
Others, however, are cautious about such enthusiasm for Tusk’s appointment as it relates to Slovakia or the V4.
While the selection of Tusk is a sign that a decade after its EU accession central Europe has been recognised “as a trustworthy and predictable partner”, it is not likely to bring many benefits to the V4, Kałan said.
“Sure, the V4 interests will be – if only it is possible – defended by the high EU representative, but this is not his main task,” Kałan told The Slovak Spectator, explaining that after he is promoted to Brussels, Tusk will need to “get rid of his nationality”, as the European Council president by definition is supposed to mediate between all sides and facilitate negotiations.
Analyst Radovan Geist, publisher of Euractiv.sk, spoke along the same lines, stressing that as the council president, Tusk is not supposed to promote the interests of any group. Geist thus sees Tusk’s appointment as having merely symbolic importance for the V4 region.
In practice, whether or not his appointment is good news for Slovakia will depend on how much of an advocate of the V4 region Tusk decides to be.
“My estimate is not much,” Geist told The Slovak Spectator, arguing that regarding European affairs, the V4 as such has not been a clearly defined group with common interests and a coordinated strategy, but rather a consulting forum.
Additionally, Poland does not identify itself within the EU primarily as a V4 country, Geist noted.
“It presents itself as one of the ‘big countries’, and it belongs equally to the Baltic region as to the central European region,” he said.
Poland’s euro ambitions and Slovakia
In Poland, the main message of Tusk’s selection is that “the country is on its best way to start playing with the big boys”, according to Kałan.
“If also rumours about giving Poland an important economic portfolio in the European Commission are confirmed, Warsaw’s position in EU institutions would be strong enough to make a real impact on the current EU agenda,” Kałan told The Slovak Spectator. “This is the situation that no other central European country has faced before.”
Tusk claims he has the comfort of coming from a country that trusts the EU deeply. “I am also convinced that there is no sensible alternative to the EU,” Tusk told journalists following his selection for the post.
He claimed he believes it is possible to join financial discipline with economic growth, citing his experience as the prime minister of Poland. He also said that his appointment means the future of Poland is in the eurozone.
Poland’s joining the eurozone will, in the end, depend on the internal political developments in the country, Geist noted, adding that while Tusk’s position in the EU might help, the fact remains that Polish political parties are far from unified on the issue. If they agree on joining the eurozone, however, it is likely to be advantageous for Slovakia from an economic standpoint, according to Geist. Politically it is a slightly more complicated matter.
“Right now we can claim that we are the only V4 country that is a member of the eurozone, and thus the only full-fledged participant in the debate that produces the most important decisions about the future of the EU,” Geist said. “If the eurozone manages to solve its current problems, stabilise the common currency and make it into the core of the further deepening of the integration, it is in Slovakia’s interest for its neighbours to be in this core.”
8. Sep 2014 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani