March 10, 2017
Return of De Gaulle’s empty chair
Last night’s European Council conclusions are already a modern classic. Not often do we have the opportunity to quote them in their entirety:
“The European Council deliberated on the attached document. It was supported by 27 Members of the European Council, but it did not gather consensus, for reasons unrelated to its substance. References to the European Council in the attached document should not be read as implying a formal endorsement by the European Council acting as an institution.”
Poland’s veto of the conclusions came in response to the reelection of Donald Tusk as president of the European Council by a majority of 27 to one. Poland’s hope of getting at least Viktor Orban and Theresa May to support its own candidate came to nothing, as both leaders rightly concluded they had nothing to gain from participating in such a suicide mission. Nor would that have stopped the election of Tusk, given the thresholds for qualified majority voting. Like so many other observers, we, too, are struggling to comprehend what purpose the Polish government could have conceivable hoped to achieve by isolating itself in the European Council.
Moreover, Poland chose a bad day for vetoing the Council conclusion - because there was not much to veto in substance. The European leaders, after their monumental mismanagement of the eurozone crisis, are now taking credit for the uptick in the economic cycle. There was, as so often, no substance in those conclusions. Only if Poland maintained an empty-chair policy, like De Gaulle did in the 1960s, would its stance become serious. There are important issues that require unanimity in the council - and that's a lever a member state might choose to pull.
We noted a comment from the Warsaw correspondent of ARD German television, who is looking at the domestic political impact. Poland is among the EU countries with the largest support for EU membership - about 80%.
Poland benefits more than any other country from EU support. The EU will now become the battleground in the next Polish elections. So this raises the question whether Civic Platform might ultimately benefit from this diplomatic disaster.