Two Leaders Head to EU Summit: Poland's Power Struggle Reaches Brussels

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The power struggle between Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk is becoming increasingly bizarre. The two fought bitterly for days over who would represent the country at the EU summit in Brussels. Now, they're both going.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski (l) and Prime Minister Donald Tusk (r) don't exactly see eye to eye.
DPA

Polish President Lech Kaczynski (l) and Prime Minister Donald Tusk (r) don't exactly see eye to eye.

Their meeting on Monday lasted just 32 minutes, and afterwards it was clear that neither had wanted to give in. For days Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk have fought over who should travel to Brussels this week for the summit of European Union leaders. On Tuesday the government jet flew Tusk to Belgium -- it then returned to Warsaw to make the same journey with Kaczynski early on Wednesday morning.

The spat marks a new low in the bickering between Tusk and Kaczynski that began last October. When Tusk's liberal Civic Platform (PO) won a resounding victory in the parliamentary elections the president at first refused to congratulate Tusk or ask him to form a new government -- a blatant affront. Kaczynski had not expected the defeat of his Law and Justice party which saw his twin brother Jaroslaw ousted as prime minister.

Since then, the two men have clashed repeatedly on the division of competencies. Foreign policy has become a particularly sore subject as the Polish constitution does not clearly delineate responsibilities when it comes to this area. Tusk and Kaczynski are now each trying to claim foreign policy for themselves.

The tone of the squabbling got much worse on Monday -- when a legal analysis of the competencies of the two offices appeared on Kaczynski's Web site. The paper claimed that the behaviour of Tusk and the members of his cabinet constituted an "attempt at an attack" on the president and was, therefore, unconstitutional. The author was not named but the conservative daily Rzeczpospolita reported that it was written by Andrzej Duda, who is undersecretary of state at Kaczynski's office. Duda has since admitted to having worked on the analysis.

For his part, Tusk tried everything to persuade Kaczynski not to go to Brussels. His cabinet decided last week that only he, the prime minister, could decide on the make up of the delegation to the EU summit -- to no avail.

The fact that Tusk had emphasized in recent days that Kaczynski's participation could "damage Poland's image and interests" made no difference. Tusk argued that the negotiations at the EU summit would primarily be about the financial crisis and climate protection and that these are areas that the government is responsible for -- not the president.

But Kaczynski remained unfazed. Naturally he was responsible, the president retorted. The situation in Georgia and the Lisbon Treaty would be discussed in Brussels and these are obviously his areas. "I say: we travel together," Kaczynski insisted.

There has been no clear winner in this wrangling over competencies. And it is still unclear which of the two will lead the Polish delegation -- which includes Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. Kaczynski has already laid claim to the role.

This tussle between the president and the prime minister is sure to tarnish the country's image. It is unlikely that the two leaders will be able to agree on a common line in Brussels, says Dieter Bingen, director of the German Poland Institute. He describes the fighting as "puerile" and fears that it jeopardizes Poland ability to be a "predictable partner."

For Bingen the subtext to the squabbling is clear: It is all part of the run up to the presidential election in 2010, which Tusk is likely to contest. This is why Kaczynski wants to prevent the prime minister increasing his profile as a successful politician.

The Polish sociologist Pawel Spiewak agrees: This duel will continue until 2010. "Both Tusk and Kaczysnksi need this trouble." In the end it's all about political survival.

With wire reports

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