The President of the European Council, the Belgian Charles Michel, will be a candidate in the elections to the European Parliament next June and plans to leave his current post in July, several months before the end of his mandate. His decision will force the Twenty-Seven to find a replacement capable of assuming his functions this summer, since, otherwise, the person responsible for leading the meetings of heads of state and government until the end of November will be the leader of the country at the head of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, which will be Hungary from July. In other words, Michel’s replacement as arbiter of the bloc’s main political events would be Viktor Orbán, one of the most Eurosceptic leaders of the moment and who has been blocking key EU decisions for some time, particularly regarding Ukraine.
The political party of the former Belgian prime minister, the Reform Movement (MR, French-speaking liberal party), confirmed him this Sunday as head of his party’s list for the European elections in June. “Which party, having the President of the European Council in its ranks, would not want to see him on its list?” commented the president of the MR, Georges-Louis Bouchez, during the party congress in Louvain la Neuve.
The decision was announced by Michel himself to several Belgian media: “I have decided to present myself as a candidate in the European elections in June 2024,” he declared. The evening And La Libre Belgique. “Four years after the start of my mandate as European leader, it is my responsibility both to report on the work accomplished in recent years and to present a project for the future of Europe,” explained the man 48-year-old politician, who however He did not want to reveal whether he would aspire again to lead one of the European institutions or to occupy a post of commissioner. Although she has not yet confirmed whether she will run in the elections, German Ursula von der Leyen, with whom Michel has tense relations, is considered the favorite to continue leading the European executive. The June elections will also mean the renewal of the presidency of the European Chamber, currently in the hands of Roberta Metsola, who, like Von der Leyen, comes from the ranks of the European People’s Party (EPP).
His candidacy for the European elections in June implies, in any case, that Michel will have to shorten his presidency at the head of the European Council, which ended on November 30. “I will hold this position until my inauguration as MEP, which will take place on July 16,” the Belgian also explained to several European media, including EL PAÍS, this Sunday. This will mean that the European Council will have to decide, either at the end of June or the beginning of July, but in any case before the first meeting of the new European Chamber, who it wants as Michel’s successor (or successor). and, above all, if the Twenty-Seven decide that he takes office immediately to avoid this position being occupied by Orbán. Although there are no regular European Councils between June and October, it is still possible that an extraordinary Council will have to be convened, like the one planned for February 1, to try to unblock the €50 billion package. euros for Ukraine which, precisely, Hungary This stopped at the last ordinary meeting of the Twenty-Seven, in December.
Michel, who revealed that he had called the 27 European leaders on Saturday to inform them of his decision – and that he assures that “the majority” reacted positively – denied that his approach represents a new complication for the functioning of the EU. He says that, apart from the fact that his successor was to be elected in June anyway, he gives everyone enough time to prepare for the change and thus avoid Hungary presiding over the Twenty-Seven Meetings.
“If the European Council wants to prevent Orbán from presiding over it, it is very simple. First, they need to make sure they make a decision in June. And I’m not surprising anyone, because there are seven months (sic) left before June. This means everyone is informed. In addition, they can decide to bring forward the entry into office of my successor,” he indicated. Community sources also point out that the rules under which Orbán would assume Michel’s duties can be changed by simple majority. “There are many instruments. If there is a political will to avoid Orbán, there are many possible options to avoid this type of situation,” insisted the Belgian.
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Charles Michel was elected in July 2019 to succeed the Pole Donald Tusk as President of the European Council, the institution which brings together the heads of state and government of the Member States. Over the past four years, his duties have included leading the work of European summits.
Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, who like Michel is part of the liberal Renew group, accused Michel of leaving the EU rudderless at particularly difficult times, with the war in Ukraine with no end in sight and conflict to the next East in total escalation. “The captain abandons the ship in the middle of a storm. If his commitment to the EU’s destiny is so minimal, how credible can he be as a candidate? “, he asked on X (formerly Twitter). “It’s an unfounded criticism,” he responded to a similar question from The evening And Free Belgium. For the current President of the European Council, presenting himself to be validated by citizens is rather an exercise in transparency and democratic commitments which, according to him, can create a precedent among the leaders of European institutions.
Elections to the European Parliament will take place from June 6 to 9, 2024 in the 27 EU countries. Belgium will also hold its national elections at the same time. Following the electoral event, the leadership of European institutions will be renewed, including the Commission and the European Council. In this year’s elections, 720 MEPs, 15 more than currently, will be elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year mandate.
The European political career of Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, was marked by tensions with the president of the European Commission. A difficult relationship that was captured in the call sofa portal, a scene lasting just 20 seconds that occurred during a meeting between the two of them in Ankara with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in April 2021, and which European leaders of different ideologies called a “disaster” . Von der Leyen was humiliated as a woman when she realized that Erdogan and Michel occupied the two chairs presiding over an institutional meeting in Ankara, while she was relegated to a more distant sofa. After allowing themselves to be photographed, the two men sat down while the German woman remained standing, perplexed. Von der Leyen intoned an eloquent “ehmm” to point out that there was no chair for her, but by the time they realized her complaint, they were already stretching their legs. In the next shot, the President of the European Commission was already sitting on a sofa, visibly uncomfortable.
Even if Michel’s decision to bring forward his departure is part of the European political game, his departure will further complicate the recently inaugurated Belgian EU presidency, already difficult in itself. Belgium will not take full advantage of the six months allotted to it to try to close as many cases as possible, since from April the European Parliament will be dissolved in view of the elections and the country itself will enter an electoral campaign national. From then on, European political activity will be reduced to a minimum until the resumption of the hemicycle, in mid-July and already under the Hungarian presidency.
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