GEIR MOULSON, RAF CASERT, AP
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders overwhelmingly came out in support of Donald Tusk to retain one of the bloc's top jobs Thursday, saying it was unlikely that strong opposition from his native Poland could block his appointment.
The government in Warsaw argued that the decision should be delayed because of its displeasure with Tusk, a bitter political rival. But other leaders insisted there was little appetite for a delay.
"I don't see how one country could oppose this solution when all the others are in favor," said French President Francois Hollande as he arrived for the summit, echoing comment from many of the bloc's 28 leaders.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who will oversee Thursday's election for president of the EU Council for the next 2½ years, said that consultations over the past week had shown "very solid support" for Tusk.
The job is one of the bloc's most prestigious. It involves chairing summits, coordinating the work of the member countries and making sure the 28 nations speak as much as possible with one voice on the international stage.
"There is an overwhelming support for President Tusk's re-election," Muscat said.
The EU is facing a plethora of challenges, not least the imminent divorce proceedings as Britain leaves the bloc, and does not want to be caught in an institutional quagmire over the position of a leader.
Hollande said that "with a Europe that has to affirm its unity, a Europe that needs to be firm in the face of a certain number of pressures it faces, there is every reason to confirm here the nomination of Donald Tusk."
Poland's nationalist government has proposed little-known Polish EU lawmaker Jacek Saryusz-Wolski to replace Tusk, whose current term ends May 31.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said it would be unheard of to confirm a president without the consent of his home nation.
"Nothing without us, without our consent," she said upon arrival for the summit. "This is a matter of principles."
Officials said however that the president can be picked when he gets the support of a large majority of nations, and Poland does not even come close to blocking the appointment.
"One country cannot block a decision. There are very clear rules of engagement and rules of procedure that we will follow," Muscat said.
Even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, often an ally of Poland's nationalist government, made clear that his country will support Tusk.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the EU needed to move on. "We don't want to become hostages of national politics inside Poland," she said.
Tusk is a former prime minister who has a long and bitter rivalry with the leader of Poland's current governing party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The government argues that Tusk supports the domestic opposition in Poland and has failed to protect the country's interests in the EU.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Tusk public support in a pre-summit speech to lawmakers in Berlin. "I see his re-election as a sign of stability for the entire European Union and I look forward to continuing working with him," Merkel said.
Muscat acknowledged that several member nations are unhappy that all major EU posts are held by members of the center-right European People's Party. But he said "they don't want to sacrifice President Tusk because of that, because they think he has done a good job."
Apart from Tusk, EPP politicians Jean-Claude Juncker and Antonio Tajani head the EU's executive Commission and the European Parliament, respectively. Muscat said a more equitable spreading of posts would need to be addressed some time over the coming months.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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