The European Council 'roundtable'
The European Council 'roundtable'

Portugal’s prime minister “among names touted for EU Council president”

António Costa “seen with good eyes in Europe”

Just as so many political watchers have been predicting since 2019, the name of Portugal’s prime minister is among those being considered as possible successors to Charles Michel, President of the European Council, who has announced he is stepping down in the summer.

Costa is seen “with good eyes in Brussels”, writes SIC Notícias today, reporting on comments made in the European parliament yesterday by Secretary of State for European Affairs Tiago Antunes.

Antunes referred to the PM being “highly respected and highly regarded” on the European political landscape.

The potential ‘scandal’ of being involved in a criminal investigation into prevarication/ facilitating, is not in itself an impediment to a position in Europe: Jean-Claude Junker, for example, was elected president of the European Commission in 2014 a year after resigning as prime minister of Luxembourg over a scandal involving the country’s secret services. Current EC boss Ursula Von der Leyen also clinched her top job following a scandal when she was Germany’s defence minister.

What most depends on Costa’s political future are the results of the European Elections in June. If these swing (as polls might suggest) towards the right, his chances may reduce, even if the autonomous investigation into his potential involvement in Operation Influencer finds ‘nothing to see’.

According to State news agency Lusa: “Costa remains a much talked-about name in Brussels (…)  one that gathers a lot of support to succeed Michel”.

Lusa refers to “the European edition of Politico – a publication closely read in Brussels, including by political decision-makers – (having) commented that Costa, the figure most likely among European Socialists to occupy a top post, has not been found guilty of anything and could still claim a job in Brussels”.

All agree, nonetheless, that “a hypothetical candidacy will depend on developments in the investigation – the prime minister needs the case to be cleared up and the suspicions about him to be dispelled with a speed that is not common in Portugal’s court system”.

Among other Socialists, other figures rumoured as possible successors to Michel are Stefan Löfven, a former prime minister of Sweden and current European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmidt, Mette Frederiksen, the current prime minster of Denmark, and former Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin. The latter two would have in their favour the fact that so far no woman has chaired the Council, but even within the Socialist family their names are not consensual, says Lusa.

In the event that a political figure from the centre-right gets the job – “one of the most talked about names is that of the outgoing prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte (Liberals), who, however, is also tipped to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

For now, all scenarios are hypothetical, but there is a slight ‘urgency’. Says Lusa, EU heads of State and government “are under pressure to negotiate and choose the figures who will occupy the top posts (…) in order to avoid the scenario (…) of a power vacuum that would lead to the institution that represents the 27 member governments eventually being led by the head of government that takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of this year, Viktor Orbán of Hungary.

Source material: LUSA/ SIC