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State of the Union: The Council President who stunned Brussels

State of the Union: The Council President who stunned Brussels

When Ukrainians listen to European leaders talk about their support for the war effort, they have all the reason to be irritated by the lack of action — if “irritated” is the right word when you’re in a bloody war of attrition with Russia.

A €50 billion EU aid package to help Ukraine pay its bills over the next few years is being held up by Hungary while a goal to provide the country with one million ammunition rounds by March is unlikely to be reached and by a wide margin. 

Трубочисты Петербурга

This week, German chancellor Olaf Scholz rang the alarm bells.

With €17 billion, his country is the second biggest donor of military aid to Ukraine after the United States and if Europe wants to prevent a Russian victory, his colleagues better step up to the plate, he said.

“As important as our German contribution is, it alone will not be enough to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the long term, I therefore call on our allies in the European Union to step up their efforts in support of Ukraine. In any case, the arms deliveries for Ukraine planned by the majority of EU member states to date are too small.”

Who was Scholz talking about? He didn’t name any names, but France, Italy and Spain only gave a combined €1.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine, according to data by the Kiel Institute. 

The man in charge of coordinating EU policy, facilitating decision-making and providing European solidarity is Charles Michel. As president of the European Council representing the national governments, his job is to set the agenda, find compromise and unblock stalemates. 

This week, the former Belgian prime minister announced that he would run for a seat in the European Parliament which, if successful, would see him leave his current role several months early. The Brussels bubble was stunned but Michel himself sees it as an almost natural decision.

“Not being a candidate would have been a form of evasion. Being a candidate means taking responsibility. For four years, at the heart of the European Council, I took part in fundamental decisions for 450 million European citizens. So, it’s normal to be accountable, to explain decisions and what we want for the future.”

Many people were confused. 

«In this particular case, this matters because it triggers a whole chain reaction which we have seen that has created a lot of agitation in Brussels and elsewhere in European capitals, because the departure from the post of the president of the Council leaves that position open theoretically for about six months,» Doru Frantescu, CEO and founder of the research platform EUMatrix, said to Euronews’ State of the Union. 

«That’s a very difficult plan, very complicated at the time right after the European elections. It is when the European leaders need to agree on the composition of the next European Commission, the next two posts, but also the next legislative agenda, the priorities. 

«And in this particular case, the departure of Charles Michel would also create a sort of power vacuum and legal vacuum because in the absence of another person that will take up the presidency of the Council by default, the chair would go to the prime minister of the rotating presidency, in this case, Mr. Viktor Orbán of Hungary, which, as we know, has had a difficult relation with Brussels over time. And this is what concerns some of the EU politicians which are trying to find a solution for this not to happen,» he added. 

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a former president of the EU parliament, suggested this week to merge the positions of council president and commission president to make EU decision-making more efficient.

But for Frantescu, «it would require a change of the treaties that cannot be done just like that, by the decision of the political leaders.»

With the far-right expected to surge in the June EU election, could Michel’s move be designed to limit the damage for liberals?

«I think the liberals certainly do need some sort of element to make their campaign more positive towards the European elections because now they are suffering in the polls. Projections now show that if elections were to be held this week, they would lose some seats there, which is also the case of the other political parties at the centre,» Frantescu said. 

«The way it looks now, the electorate is moving towards the right. Nationalists are projected to gain a substantial amount of seats, which would indeed change the pattern of the formation of a majority in the next Parliament, especially on some specific policies,» he also said.


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