President of the European Council Charles Michel has announced he will prematurely resign from office and run as an MEP in the upcoming European Parliament elections, leading to a barrage of criticism.
Michel told Belgian media on January 6 he would officially step down on July 16.
“If I get elected, I will take my seat [in the European Parliament]. The European Council can anticipate and name a successor by end-June, early-July,” he said, adding that he would be running as the lead candidate for his Belgian Reformist Movement party.
While the aim is to have a successor appointed by that time, if the 27 Member States do not find agreement, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán could serve as temporary president of the European Council.
An MEP’s mandate cannot be combined with that of Council president, thus resulting in his decision to quit should he be elected ahead of the official end of his role on November 30, 2024.
The fact that Michel’s exit also allows him to be selected for newly available jobs at the European level, such as president of the European Parliament or something high-up in what will be a new European Commission, has raised eyebrows over his ambitions.
Europhiles are accusing him of “desertion” and giving the keys of the European castle to the “enemy” – Eurosceptic Orbán.
On this prospect, Zoltan Kovacs, international spokesman for Orbán’s cabinet office, wrote on X: “Let’s preserve our strategic calmness”.
❗️To all those voices wondering whether @PM_ViktorOrban could serve as an interim President of the European Council, should @eucopresident become an MEP: Let's preserve our strategic calmness. pic.twitter.com/Dm7iVYPGpM
— Zoltan Kovacs (@zoltanspox) January 8, 2024
Belgian commentators have called Michel a “job opportunist”.
KU Leuvan university professor of European Politics Steven Van Hecke said: “The signal he is sending now is that his personal interest comes before the interest of the European institutions.
“Because this clearly has to do with his career.”
Regarding Michel’s move, Geert Noels, a Belgian author and financial expert asked: “Where is the honour? Where is the responsibility? Where is the sense of norms?”
Thomas Dermine, a socialist Secretary of State in the Belgian Government, said: “We must recognise Charles Michel’s masterful consistency in putting his personal interests ahead of the collective interest. ”
Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, of the Renew Europe group, stated: “The captain leaves the ship in the middle of the storm.
“If that’s the lack of interest you have in the future of Europe, what is your credibility as a candidate?”
Many feel Michel may be looking at stepping into the shoes of heavyweights such as Didier Reynders, current European Commissioner for Justice who is allegedly eyeing the job of Secretary General of the Council of Europe with the Croatian Marija Pejčinović Burić soon to end her stint.
Other positions that are being intensely discussed in Belgium and might have an influence on the matter are the head of the Central Bank and a leading position in the Ministery of Finance.
Alberto Alemanno, professor of European law at HEC Paris and Bruges’ College of Europe, is also critical of Michel and claimed that the possibility of Orbán as Council president is “problematic”.
Charles Michel’s decision to prematurely leave the EU Council presidency to pursue his own political career as MEP is not only self-centred but also irresponsible:
it will pave the way for Viktor Orbán, the then president of the rotating presidency of the Council to take over…
— Alberto Alemanno (@alemannoEU) January 7, 2024
Targeting Michel, he said he had “manifestly failed to leave a mark in EU politics,” and that he “will go down in history as the least effective Council President ever appointed”.
Alemanno said Michel’s biggest contribution was proving that the presidency role is “redundant and counterproductive” and urgently needs “reform”.
Michel remained bullish, saying: “As European leader, I want to account for my work over the past four years, play an active role in the European debate and help promote the Europe 2030 project,” he said.
“This will require reforms. I want to be part of those builders and continue to serve the European project where I can be useful.”
At the same time, he left an opening for return to Belgian politics and such a comeback has been rumoured before.
We might be worried, but let's appreciate that Charles Michel is offering the seat to someone else. pic.twitter.com/OT34B1LxAI
— DG MEME 🇪🇺 (@meme_ec) January 8, 2024
— Erwin Vanmol (Hij/Ger) (@Vanmoltoons) January 8, 2024