European Council President Donald Tusk. image courtesy : Business Insider

European Union leaders confirmed Donald Tusk for a second term as their president Thursday, earning the wrath of his native Poland and opening up a new rift at a time when EU unity is essential.

Mr Tusk is a former prime minister who has a long and bitter rivalry with the leader of Poland’s current governing party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Poland’s government argues that Tusk supports the domestic opposition in Poland and has failed to protect the country’s interests in the EU. There is also long-standing personal animosity between Tusk and Kaczynski, Poland’s most influential politician.

In an apparent reference to the Polish government, Tusk said: “Be careful of the bridges you burn because once they are gone you can never cross them again.” He also vowed to keep his nation out of political isolation despite its obstructionist course.

The government argues that Mr Tusk supports the domestic opposition in Poland and has failed to protect the country’s interests in the EU.

The 27 other EU leaders overrode weeks of objections from the nationalist government in Warsaw, which has a long and bitter rivalry with former Prime Minister Tusk and opposed giving him another term at the EU.

The job is one of the bloc’s most prestigious. It involves chairing summits, co-ordinating the work of the member countries and making sure the 28 nations speak as much as possible with one voice on the international stage.

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.

“I don’t see how one country could oppose this solution when all the others are in favour,” said French President Francois Hollande, echoing comment from many of the bloc’s 28 leaders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Mr. 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,” Ms. Merkel said.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who chaired the election, acknowledged that several member nations are unhappy that all major E.U. posts are held by members of the center-right European People’s Party. But he said “they don’t want to sacrifice President Mr. Tusk because of that, because they think he has done a good job.”