European Council President Charles Michel announced Sunday that he’s running instead for a seat in the European Parliament this June, a move that would force him to step down from his current position if elected.
If a replacement isn’t found quickly, observers worry Michel’s decision could put Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in charge of the European Council, as Hungary is next up in the political body’s rotating presidency schedule.
The European Council decides on the general political direction of the bloc, and what issues the European Union should prioritize.
Orban’s poor human rights track record may disqualify him from the top EU job
Orban is Russia’s closest ally in Europe and has been a “persistent thorn” in EU policymaking — most recently vetoing more than $54 billion planned financial aid package for Ukraine seen as essential to the country’s survival amid its war with Russia. The Hungarian leader is widely viewed by European and other Western leaders as anti-democratic. Currently, the European Commission is withholding more than $32 billion worth of funds from Budapest over violations of human rights and the rule of law, including cases of discrimination against migrants and the LGBTQ community. Hungary’s alleged breach of EU law may mean that Orban is not entitled to hold the rotating presidency of the EU, one professor at HEC Paris Business School told The Financial Times, noting that there is a conflict of interest between going against EU regulations and chairing council meetings where sanctions against Hungary could be decided.
Michel is leaving his post during a tough time for EU diplomacy
Some experts are interpreting Michel’s premature exit from the EU Council as “self-centered” and “irresponsible,” arguing that the 48-year-old’s rapid rise to the head of the European Council was fueled by nepotism. “He was like the child of God that had everything given to him,” a senior official who worked with Michel while he was Belgium’s prime minister told Politico. Sophie in’t Veld, a current member of the European Parliament, described Michel’s decision to step down as abandoning ship “in the middle of a storm” of pressing world events, including the Ukraine war, the conflict in Gaza conflict, and increasing tensions between Europe and China. “If that is how little committed you are to the fate of the European Union, then how credible are you as a candidate?” in’t Veld wrote on X.