European Council President Charles Michel has announced his decision to step down from his role. The 48-year-old Belgian politician, who has been at the helm of the EU Council since late 2019, revealed that he intends to run as a candidate in the European Parliament elections scheduled for June 2024.
Charles Michel’s mandate was originally set to conclude in November, but the upcoming European Parliament elections in June madehim to take this step.
Speaking to Belgian media, Michel expressed his desire to stand as the lead candidate for the liberal Reformist Movement (MR) party in the elections.
He addressed the need to be accountable for his work over the past four years and to propose a vision for the future of Europe.
The next European Council president must be elected by a majority vote of the EU’s 27 leaders. With Charles Michel leaving before his term expires, the urgency to find a successor is evident.
If no replacement is found in time, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban could temporarily assume the presidency, given Hungary’s upcoming role in holding the rotating presidency of the Council from July.
Viktor Orban, known for his nationalist stance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, would take on the responsibilities of the Council president during this interim period.
This prospect has concerns, especially considering Orban’s clash with the EU over financial aid to Ukraine and the EU Parliament’s declaration that Hungary cannot be considered a full democracy due to alleged electoral autocracy.
Orban’s temporary presidency could have problems for EU decision-making, given his confrontations with Brussels and controversial positions on various issues.
The EU heads of government now face the challenge of finding a successor before Hungary assumes the rotating presidency in July.
The situation already intricate politics, as the EU confronts issues such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, rule-of-law disputes, and the overall state of democracy within its member states.
Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld accused him of leaving the ship in the middle of a storm, questioning his commitment to the fate of the European Union.
However, Charles Michel defended his choice, stating that announcing his decision in January provides ample time for the EU to appoint a successor before Hungary’s presidency begins.
The timing of Charles Michel’s departure, just ahead of the European Parliament elections. Speculation is rife about the impact on other top EU positions that must be decided by November.
The elections for 720 MEPs every five years traditionally trigger negotiations for roles, including the European Commission and European Council.
The announcement also puts pressure on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who, like Charles Michel, assumed her role in 2019.
The question of whether von der Leyen intends to seek a second term remains unanswered. Her decision, with Charles Michel’s departure, could set the stage for changes within the top echelons of EU leadership.
Running as the lead candidate for the MR party, he aims to continue serving the European project and play a role in building a democratic European Union.
The possibility of Viktor Orban assuming an interim presidency has controversy within the EU. Some say that Orban’s alleged breaches of EU law and his confrontational stance with Brussels make him an unsuitable candidate for such a role.
As the EU approaches a juncture with the upcoming elections, the democratic challenges within the union come into focus.
The rise of far-right and populist movements across Europe, as showed by recent polls, concerns about the overall direction of the EU.
The departure of Charles Michel and the temporary presidency of Viktor Orban could impact the EU’s decision-making processes, especially concerning issues such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Some say that Charles Michel has been the least effective council president ever appointed, citing his perceived battles of egos with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Others commend his efforts in overseeing EU summits during challenging times, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.