Thursday, June 20, 2024

Charles Michel plots revenge against Ursula von der Leyen

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Behind the scenes, the power war between the European Union’s top two officials played out over canceled lunches and strategically spun off-the-record statements from one side of Rue de la Loi to the other. The tense dynamics spilled out into plain sight on a visit to Ankara in 2021  when Michel snagged the only chair available next to the Turkish president, leaving von der Leyen relegated to a nearby couch, in what became known as Sofagate. She later leveled allegations of sexism in the European Parliament. 

Some have suggested Michel is angling for the EU foreign policy chief role, succeeding Josep Borrell, with whom he has a good relationship. His strategy will be to pull heads of state aside for one-on-ones instead of discussing the top jobs together with everyone present, which is traditionally how these deals are done, said a few of the eight diplomats and officials.

To complicate matters further, Michel presides over the process of dividing up the top jobs that will take place after the EU election, including over the decision by EU leaders that could see von der Leyen appointed for a second term.

“He is not a candidate. As the president mentioned many times, he is and will be entirely focused on his job as EUCO President, and uniting the European Council in delivering substantial decisions,” said Ecaterina Casinge, a spokesperson for the president of the European Council.

In the past few weeks, some European countries have become increasingly nervous about Michel’s real agenda.

“Many member states are concerned that Charles Michel won’t play a constructive role, but rather pursue a personal revenge agenda,” one EU diplomat said, capturing the mood among many of their colleagues. 

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