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European Council president Charles Michel has announced he will run in EU-wide elections in June in a move that would force him to step down early from his current role if elected and could hand more influence to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.
Michel said in an interview with three Belgian media outlets on Saturday that he planned to stand as the lead candidate for his liberal Reformist Movement party when the EU goes to the polls between June 6 and 9.
“I want to serve where I am useful, and I think I can be useful at European level,” he told Le Soir, De Standaard and La Libre.
If elected, he would have to step down before being sworn in as a member of the European parliament on July 16, said the former Belgian prime minister.
His announcement raises the prospect that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán could gain greater influence over EU policymaking.
Governments of the EU’s 27 member states “will have to decide when my successor will take office”, Michel said. If no candidate was found quickly, member states might vote to allow Hungary, which will then hold the rotating chair of the EU Council meetings, to have the presidency until a replacement was found, Michel added.
That would put Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán in the mediation role normally held by the council president.
Orbán has been a persistent thorn in the side of EU policymaking in the past year. At a summit of the bloc’s leaders in December, he refused to agree to a four-year, €50bn financial aid package for Ukraine seen as vital to the country’s survival this year in the face of the Russian invasion.
He also met Russian President Vladimir Putin in October, the only EU leader other than Austria’s Karl Nehammer to do so since the full-scale invasion began in 2022.
Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU law at HEC Paris Business School, said: “Orbán isn’t entitled to hold the rotating presidency of the EU due to his manifest conflict of interest between being in breach of EU law and [Hungary] potentially being the chair of the council meetings deciding on sanctions [against Hungary].”
The European Commission has been withholding more than €30bn of EU funds from Hungary over rule of law and human rights concerns amid increasingly anti-European rhetoric from Budapest.
In November, the commission did agree to release an initial payout from a potential €10.2bn that Hungary could now claim thanks to some tentative reforms.
Michel will be the first sitting European Council president to run in EU elections. Two previous council presidents — Herman Van Rompuy and Donald Tusk — subsequently sat as members of the European parliament. Tusk was appointed prime minister of Poland in December.
Michel’s announcement will increase pressure on commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a member of the conservative European People’s party, to reveal her intentions about her future. She is expected to put herself forward for a second term.
After previous EU elections, the largest parliamentary group has been given the opportunity to appoint the president of the commission, the EU’s executive arm, leaving the role of council president, who is responsible for brokering between the EU leaders and calling EU summits, open to a smaller group.
Both candidates must be approved by a majority of the EU’s 27 leaders, and the commission president also needs the backing of the parliament.
The latest polls show a significant swing towards the far right. Projections from the election analyst EU Elects published on December 30 show the far-right Identity and Democracy group, of which the French nationalist Marine Le Pen is a member, on course to overtake the Renew liberal group to become the third-largest faction in the European parliament.
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