EU boss makes election U-turn
European Council president Charles Michel has abandoned plans to contest a seat in the upcoming European Parliament elections in June. This comes amid suggestions that doing so could have led Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, a critic of aid to Ukraine, to replace him as EU Council chief.
Michel, previously Belgium’s prime minister, announced his intention to stand as an MEP for his home country three weeks ago. If he, as was widely expected, had been elected, he would have been required to leave his EU role before the official end of his term in late November.
This could have led to Orban assuming the position by default, had no successors been installed swiftly, as Hungary takes on the rotating presidency of the EU Council in July. Michel’s U-turn came just six days before an EU summit he will chair to discuss future funding for Ukraine convenes as Brussels seeks to bypass Orban’s veto against using the bloc’s shared budget to resupply Kiev.
In a statement on Friday, Michel said that his change of mind came after “extreme reactions” and “personal attacks” in response to his initial decision to seek election. Still, he added that he would “devote all my efforts to my current responsibilities.”
“I don’t want this decision to distract us from our mission or undermine this institution and our European project nor be misused in any way to divide the European Council, which I believe must work tirelessly for European unity,” he said in comments posted to social media.
“I will always be a fervent advocate of a Europe that is democratic, strong, united and a master of its own destiny,” he said, before adding that he will “reflect on the nature and direction of my future commitments” once his term ends later this year.
Michel’s intention to pursue a seat in Brussels’ parliament was described as “scandalous” by Andrew Duff of the European Policy Center. Several other officials also expressed reservations, with one anonymous EU diplomat telling Politico that Michel’s initial decision was “disingenuous and disrespectful to the role of the European Council.”
The decision by Michel to withdraw his candidacy for the European Parliament was backed by officials from EU countries, a Financial Times report said on Friday without identifying the nations in question.
Orban is expected to once again block funds for Ukraine at next Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders, The Guardian said on Friday, citing sources with knowledge of discussions, after previously doing so in December.
Should Budapest continue its objection, it is possible that the other 26 EU member states could invoke the rarely-used Article 7 of the EU treaty that allows a state to be stripped of its voting rights.