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Michel’s surprise: Is EU starting 2024 on wrong foot?

2024 started in Brussels with a surprise: European Council President Charles Michel unexpectedly stated that he would leave his post by July

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, January 8, 2024

“I don’t want to anticipate the decision that will be taken by the European Council in June, […] but there are several options, and if the European Council wants to avoid Viktor Orban, that is very easy”, Michel said in a media call.
“I don’t want to anticipate the decision that will be taken by the European Council in June, […] but there are several options, and if the European Council wants to avoid Viktor Orban, that is very easy”, Michel said in a media call.

by Sarantis Michalopoulos

2024 started in Brussels with a surprise: European Council President Charles Michel unexpectedly stated that he would leave his post by July, opening the Pandora’s box of European politics earlier than anticipated, well before the June EU elections.

Euractiv’s Alexandra Brzozowski reported on Sunday that this move will likely speed up procedures regarding the EU’s top job decision-making process.

Given that it’s unclear whether this move was coordinated with the liberal camp, it may be risky for Michel and beneficial for his political rival, Ursula Von der Leyen.

Usually, the EU leadership decision – taken between the European Council, Commission and Parliament – takes months, but now EU leaders will have to rush, and they have at least one good reason: Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

They will get two chances to decide on Michel’s successor in two respective summits in June. Otherwise, Eurosceptic leader Orban – whose country will take over the EU Council Presidency on 1 July – could assume the role of interim caretaker until November.

“I don’t want to anticipate the decision that will be taken by the European Council in June, […] but there are several options, and if the European Council wants to avoid Viktor Orban, that is very easy”, Michel said in a media call in which Alexandra participated.

It’s common knowledge in EU circles that Michel has been thinking about his next career step for months. However, with this move, it’s still unclear what he is actually aiming for.

Considering that Michel said he would be running as the lead candidate for his Belgian centre-right Reformist Movement (MR) party, it is not unlikely he might be potentially eyeing the EU Parliament presidency.

This could turn out to be a risky bet, though, as liberals may not be in a position to claim any top role.

Brussels insiders are also wondering whether this decision was coordinated within the liberal camp, as Michel did not get any public support from his side so far.

Also, polls suggest that the extreme right will likely become the third power in parliament, which puts more pressure on pro-EU forces to form a counterweight.

Michel’s surprise move might, in fact, help the campaign of his political rival, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – whose relations with Michel have never been easy. She can claim that she stays until the end and will ‘not abandon the ship’.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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