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Polish PM mocks Hollande’s low approval ratings

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo in Strasbourg, France on January 19, 2016 Reuters/Vincent Kessler

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s comments came at a European Union (EU) summit in Brussels on Friday, one day after the re-election of Donald Tusk as European Council president, which Poland had tried to block.

After French President François Hollande allegedly threatened to suspend European funding for Poland because it was “not behaving properly”, Szydlo accused him of blackmail.

“Am I supposed to take seriously the blackmail of a president who has a four percent approval rating and who soon won’t be president?”

The comment was a reference to Hollande’s low approval ratings in France, which at one point dropped as low as four percent in 2016, according to an Ipsos poll. He is one of the most unpopular presidents in the country’s history since the end of World War II.

Poland's attempt to prevent Tusk, who is also Polish, from being re-elected to a second term gave way to a diplomatic row at the EU summit in Brussels, as it was the only country that opposed his appointment. The move threatened to derail the summit, as the European Council – the EU governing body comprised of the leaders of its member states – seeks to achieve consensus on such issues.

The BBC has reported that Hollande, at a summit dinner in Brussels on Thursday, suggested that Western European countries were funding Poland’s development. The country is one of the biggest net recipient of EU funds, having received 13.4 billion euros in 2015.

"If someone says 'you're not behaving properly so you won't get the money', that's unacceptable," Szydlo told a news conference on Friday.

The Polish PM, who represents the right-wing Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party (PiS), has long opposed Tusk, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014.

The PiS has been bitter towards Tusk since the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed Lech Kaczynski, then Poland's president. All 95 passengers died. As the plane crashed in dense fog, official investigations concluded that the crash was due to pilot error. But the PiS has accused Tusk of not fully investigating the matter.

The row over Tusk's re-election has heightened tensions at a summit that has centred on discussions of EU unity in the face of Brexit. It was UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s last summit before invoking Article 50, which she has said she will do by the end of March. The move would officially begin the UK’s process of withdrawing from the EU. As European Council president, Tusk will play a key role in negotiating Brexit terms.