Viktor Orbán could replace Charles Michel as the President of the European Council, causing alarm among liberals. Politico cited reports from the Belgian press, stating that Michel had confirmed his candidacy for the European Parliament elections in June. If elected, he would assume his mandate in mid-July, and EU leaders would need to promptly decide on his successor. If unsuccessful, the country holding the EU presidency, in this case, Hungary, would take over the presidency of the Council, making Viktor Orbán the president of the EU’s ultimate decision-making body.
The European left and its mouthpiece Politico are naturally terrified at the mere prospect of a man heading the European Council whose positions on key issues are in stark contrast with those of the liberal mainstream.
However, the position of the President of the European Council does not confer any special decision-making powers; its main task is to achieve consensus among the leaders of the Member States.
The current situation, where the President of the European Council is running for a seat in the European Parliament before the end of his mandate, is unprecedented in history. Typically, Michel would remain in office until the end of November, coinciding with the establishment of the new Commission. Member State leaders will convene twice after the June elections to determine Michel’s successor. If unsuccessful, the baton will be passed to Viktor Orbán.
The 2024 election year has kicked off with its first surprise.— POLITICOEurope (@POLITICOEurope) January 8, 2024
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, is running for a seat in the European Parliament.
And the move could hand Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán the reins.
Brussels Playbook has more. https://t.co/EyEKhpymAM
Michel’s decision fundamentally disrupts the balance of power in Brussels, as the presidency of the European Council typically becomes part of the post-election negotiations between the European political groups that secure the most seats in the EP, alongside the presidency of the European Commission and the European Parliament. It is not yet clear whether Michel would vie for one of these top positions.
According to Politico, he could also be in the running for the presidency of the Commission or the position of Belgian commissioner after Didier Reynders. The Brussels-based news portal suggests that the current justice commissioner would assume the role of secretary-general of the Council of Europe in the next term.
While there are still many questions about Michel’s successor, the European left is already making efforts to ensure that Viktor Orbán does not become president, even by chance.
Michel’s statement is indicative of this, with the Belgian politician saying that ‘there are plenty of tools available if the political will to bypass Orbán is there.’ The European Parliament has also long been discussing the possibility of stripping Hungary of the rotating presidency, and if these efforts succeed, the issue itself will become moot — although the chances of this happening are extremely slim.
The fear of a potential Orbán presidency in Brussels is evident in the immediate outcry from long-established anti-Hungarian voices in the news. Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld accused Michel of being unfair by 'jumping ship,' stating, 'The captain leaving the ship in the middle of a storm. If that is how little committed you are to the fate of the European Union, then how credible are you as a candidate?' The Guardian quoted the politician.
Left-wing experts interviewed by the British paper unanimously opposed Orbán and were quick to criticize the outgoing president.
Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU law at the College of Europe, called the move 'not only self-centered but irresponsible.' He added, 'Opening the door to Orbán—who stands accused of breaching EU law but could find himself chairing council meetings—becoming council president, even temporarily, would be even more problematic and irresponsible.' Steven Van Hecke, a professor of European politics at the University of Leuven, said Orbán was the last person anyone would want to see in the presidency of the European Council. Meanwhile, Manfred Weber, president of the European People's Party and a consistent critic of Hungary, asserts that Michel's decision is poised to increase instability within the Council and potentially shift decision-making to the Hungarian presidency.
Since then, the Prime Minister's press chief, Bertalan Havasi, has also addressed the matter. In response to Atv.hu's inquiry, he stated, 'We propose strategic calm in this matter.'