Brussels: Belgian politician Charles Michel has announced he will step down early as European Council president after he runs in the European Parliament elections set for June.
“I’ve decided to stand as a candidate for the European elections in June 2024,” he told Belgian media.
The surprise move is likely to heighten speculation about who will be the next European Union leaders as negotiations begin for a new round of top jobs in November, when Michel’s official mandate runs out.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, who like Michel was appointed in 2019, has so far kept quiet on whether she intends to seek a second term.
As Council president, one of Michel’s main tasks has been overseeing EU summits that have become critical to the search for joint responses to crises including the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Four years after starting my term as a European leader, it’s my responsibility to give an account of my work these past years and to propose a project for Europe’s future,” Michel, the 48-year-old former Belgian prime minister, told Belgian media.
He said he would head the list of the liberal Reformist Movement (MR) party, of which he is a former leader, in the European Parliament elections and step down as Council president in July.
“That means I would continue my work as European Council president until being sworn in as an MEP on Jul 16,” he said.
A Council meeting is scheduled for just after the parliament elections, and “at this moment it will have to decide when my successor will take up the job”, Michel said.
The move came in for strong criticism, even from his own side of the fence, as it raises questions over who will take over from Michel.
Under EU procedures, the national leader of the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency, would assume the role until the November election.
That would be Hungarian nationalist Viktor Orban, the only EU leader to maintain close ties with the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Michel said he thought the standard procedures could be “changed by a simple majority” vote.
Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, of the liberal centrist Renew Europe party, took to X, formerly Twitter, and accused him of abandoning ship.
“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?” she asked.
The parliament elections, which are scheduled to take place between Jun 6 and 9 across the 27 EU member countries, are to choose 720 deputies in total.
They are expected to prompt fierce horse-trading for the top jobs in the European institutions, including the European Commission and European Council.