Michel Announces Surprise Resignation to Run as MEP
Brussels was thrown into turmoil Sunday as European Council President Charles Michel unexpectedly announced he will resign in July to run as MEP in 2024 European Parliament elections.
Michel, 47, said he will step down as early as mid-July, cutting short his second 2.5 year term which started in 2019. His departure comes amid rising Euroscepticism and threats to EU unity.
The shock resignation sets up a tightly contested race to replace Michel and determine the future direction of the EU as it faces economic uncertainty and more coordinated opposition from Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
Surprise Move Sparks Succession Scramble
Michel’s unprecedented early resignation less than halfway through his term has sparked a heated contest between opposing factions vying to shape the future of Europe.
His early exit gives leaders just 6 months to choose a successor before the European Council president plays a key role negotiating jobs and policy priorities with newly elected MEPs.
Michel’s move is seen as an attempt to force EU leaders’ hands before anti-EU candidates gain more influence in European Parliament elections. But it also leaves top EU posts open for grabs mid-mandate, with unpredictable consequences.
“This will set off quite a scramble and shuffle at the top of the EU,” said senior research fellow Amanda Paul of the European Policy Centre think tank.
Centre-right Seeks to Block Orban Ally
Michel’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest bloc in European Parliament, aims to block Orban’s longtime ally, former Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, from securing the influential Council presidency.
Orban has pledged Grybauskaite, an independent who strongly backs EU integration, will have “100% support” from his party to replace Michel. If elected, she could weaken disciplinary measures against Orban’s erosion of democratic freedoms and other EU core values.
Securing the Council presidency would also strengthen Orban’s challenge against the EPP in European Parliament elections this May.
But Michel’s EPP is urging a unity candidate to prevent further EU disintegration after recent challenges.
Race Wide Open
With Michel relinquishing power midway through his term, the field to become one of Europe’s most powerful leaders is suddenly wide open.
No obvious consensus candidate has yet emerged from current or former EU presidents, prime ministers and commissioners.
“At the end of the day, the European Council President is a broker – able to build consensus between EU governments on the most pressing issues,” said Fabian Zuleeg, head of the European Policy Centre.
“It will be a difficult choice.”
Besides the centre-right EPP’s desperation to block rising Eurosceptic influence, the race will also navigate traditional divides between western and eastern EU member states over core values like rule of law, as well as eurozone and non-eurozone interests.
What’s Next: Six Month Dead Heat
Michel vowed his premature departure as Council president will not weaken the EU or his leadership ahead of European Parliament elections this May.
But his surprise resignation midway through his term has intensified a race to determine the EU’s direction at a crucial time.
With Michel leaving as early as July, EU leaders have just over six months to elect a successor capable of navigating challenges from Eurosceptics like Orban as well as economic turbulence. Member states are split, however, over the best path ahead.
Michel’s stunning move to run as MEP has forced EU capitals to hastily rethink plans to shape the bloc’s leadership and priorities. The face-off over the next Council president could decide whether EU integration stalls or advances amid rising nationalism.
Much depends on the ability of Michel’s EPP to rally support for a unity candidate – and fast.
Who Could Replace Michel?
Potential candidates considered in the running to replace Michel include:
|Former Finnish PM & finance minister
|Strong EPP credentials but lacks support
|Former Estonian PM & EU commissioner
|Strong CV but already an MEP
|Executive VP, European Commission
|Latvian, oversaw euro adoption
|Seen as steady caretaker choice
|Former president of Croatia
|First woman to hold the post
|Could appeal as “unity” leader
With just months before Michel’s mid-July departure, expect more names to emerge – but the favourites have little time to rally support and cut deals to secure the EU’s top job.
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