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7 Jan, 2024 13:03

Orban could take over EU Council – Politico

Officials in Brussels reportedly fear Charles Michel’s resignation could give presiding Hungary enormous influence in the bloc
Orban could take over EU Council – Politico

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country will hold the European Council’s rotating presidency later this year, could gain an outsized influence over the body due to the expected departure of Council President Charles Michel, Politico reported on Sunday.

Michel has announced that he will run in this year’s EU parliamentary election, meaning he will vacate his current post if he wins. If EU leaders fail to quickly find a replacement, the president’s duties would essentially be assumed by Orban, the news website said.

Michel signaled his intention in an interview with three Belgian media outlets on Saturday, saying that if elected, he would carry out his duties in the EU Council until he takes his oath as an MEP in mid-July. “The European Council can anticipate this at the end of June or early July and decide on a successor,” he said.

According to EU rules, Hungary will take the Council’s rotating presidency between July and December. The timing could usher in a scenario in which “an unchecked Orban [will be] ruling the Council roost for the six months directly after the 2024 European election,” Politico noted, adding that other EU leaders would “desperately” want to avoid such an outcome.

Orban has been at odds with officials in Brussels on many fronts. The Hungarian prime minister has been critical of EU migration policy, and has consistently opposed sending arms to Ukraine, as well as its accelerated integration into the EU. He has also slammed EU sanctions against Moscow, saying they hurt the bloc's economy.

Hungary also blocked a €50 billion aid package ($55 billion) for Kiev, which was meant to be disbursed between 2024 and 2027, while lashing out at the EU decision to freeze billions of euros in assistance to Budapest.

EU leaders are scheduled to meet on June 17 and June 27-28, shortly after the EU parliamentary election. Politico and other media have suggested that they would use those opportunities to agree on a replacement for Michel if he wins the election, although the process would have to move more quickly than usual. Under normal circumstances, Michel’s mandate expires in November 2024.

The EU Council president has also rejected claims that he is abandoning ship during simultaneous crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, saying he still has at least six months left at his post. He also noted that the second half of the year would be marked by political transition in any case.