'Disloyal' Polish rival to Tusk loses EU party job

Brussels (AFP) - The EU Parliament's biggest party Monday stripped Poland's last-minute candidate to replace Donald Tusk of a senior post, saying it regretted his "disloyalty" for standing against the European Council head.

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) said it had sacked Jacek Saryusz-Wolski as vice-president after Warsaw nominated him to succeed Tusk at an EU summit later this week.

Poland's eurosceptic government announced on Saturday it wanted Polish Euro-MP Saryusz-Wolski instead of its long-term foe Tusk, who remains the EPP's official candidate for the EU's top post.

"Today, the EPP has revoked Jacek Saryusz-Wolski's title as EPP Vice-President," the group's chief Joseph Daul said in a statement.

"I deeply regret Saryusz-Wolski's disloyalty and disrespect towards the unity and values of his own member parties," Daul added.

Euro MPs will vote whether to fully exclude him from the parliamentary party later this week, officials said.

But Saryusz-Wolski insisted that he himself had resigned from the party.

"I made a quick farewell visit to the EPP headquarters where I presented my resignation to president Daul due to the current situation," he told Polish media.

EU leaders are set to decide on a second term for former Polish premier Tusk at a summit in Brussels on Thursday in a process that was expected to be unopposed.

Tusk is still set to be re-elected as Warsaw cannot veto his appointment under EU rules, but the Polish government insisted on Monday it would stand behind Saryusz-Wolski.

- 'Only Polish candidate' -

"This is the only Polish candidate in the race for the European Council president. There is no other Polish candidate," Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said as he attended talks with his counterparts in Brussels.

Hungary, led by the eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, backed Warsaw's position, the Polish minister said.

"The Hungarian minister presented a very strong view this morning. He said it is up to the individual country members to decide who their candidate is," Waszczykowski said.

"If (Tusk) isn't proposed by any member state, then he shouldn't be taken into consideration," Waszczykowski added.

EU officials told AFP that as the incumbent president there is no need for Tusk to be nominated by a member state, according to the bloc's rules.

Meanwhile Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the hardline boss of Poland's governing Law and Justice party (PiS), said Tusk was the "German candidate".

Asked whose candidate Tusk would be after Warsaw backed a rival, Kaczynski said: "Angela Merkel's, he is the German candidate."

Tusk became president of the European Council, gathering EU heads of state or government, in late 2014.

Warsaw's move threatens to create bad blood at a time when the crisis-hit EU can ill afford more internal strife.

Tusk has been sharply at odds with Poland's rightwing government, especially Kaczynski, over a range of issues including changes to state media and the constitution.

Kaczynski accuses him of bearing "moral responsibility" for the death of his twin brother Lech Kaczynski, who was then president, in an air disaster in 2010 that also killed 95 others.