Poland wants center-right MEP to replace Tusk as European Council head

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland named a center-right MEP as its candidate for European Council President on Saturday after it said it would oppose the re-appointment of former prime minister Donald Tusk as the chairman of EU leaders.

European Council President Donald Tusk looks at Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan after a meeting in Brussels, Belgium February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

“I have just submitted Jacek Saryusz-Wolski’s candidature for the post by means of a diplomatic note,” Polish state-run news agency PAP quoted Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski as saying.

Saryusz-Wolski is a Polish member of the European Parliament and until Saturday a member of the Civic Platform (PO), the biggest opposition party to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS).

Tusk, a former PO leader, has wide backing among EU leaders for a second term, even though he faces strong opposition in Poland.

When PiS officials floated the possible candidacy of Saryusz-Wolski as an alternative to Tusk earlier this week, EU diplomats in Brussels largely dismissed the idea, saying Tusk will be re-appointed.

EU officials had said discussing an alternative candidate to Tusk would only add to the many feuds inside the bloc as it wrestles with a range of challenges from a more assertive Russia to militant Islam.

A Maltese official told Reuters on Saturday: “It is a normal election process, everything will be decided in a democratic way.” Malta currently holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency.

Earlier this week PiS leader and Tusk’s Polish arch rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that Tusk “breaks the elementary rules of the European Union.”

And on Saturday, the political committee of PiS called Prime Minister Beata Szydlo to voice a “strong objection” against Tusk’s re-election.

Tusk’s term at the head of the European Council ends in May.

The Council chair will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to exit the EU, among other things.

PO dismissed Saryusz-Wolski just after his candidature was announced on Saturday.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Clelia Oziel