The appointment of Charles Michel as the new president of the European Council has been met by varying reactions at home and abroad.
The Flemish press was full of praise. Michel is described as “a man of the world,” (Het Laatste Nieuws) who despite having been left heading a caretaker government by the departure of N-VA in November, “kept going on the international scene as if nothing had gone wrong”. Michel can look forward to coming back to domestic politics in 2024 as “one of the most important politicians this land has seen in decades,” the paper concludes.
Michel and his party, Het Nieuwsblad writes, have not much more of a place in Belgian politics, and his move to Europe is “an elegant exit”. Michel’s youth – he is still only 43 – and the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen as EU Commission president “could be a breath of fresh air showing that it’s no longer grey-haired old men at the wheel in the EU”.
Michel’s own party colleague, Didier Reynders, offered his congratulations on Twitter. His Flemish liberal colleague, Open VLD president Gwendolyn Rutten, described his appointment as “an excellent choice. And exactly what the EU needs: a young, liberal leader.” Guy Verhofstadt, also Open VLD in the European Parliament, posted “with him, Belgium is where it belongs: in the cockpit of the European Union.” A sentiment echoed by Wouter Van Beke, president of CD&V and new employment minister: “In the footsteps of Herman Van Rompuy. Belgium continues to help direct the course of the future of Europe.”
Even N-VA rained down congratulations on Michel, with a rare glimpse of humour from former Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, who now goes to the European Parliament. “Congratulations,” he tweeted. “I thought I was rid of you.”
However Belga points out that for the time being, none of the leading French-speaking parties apart from Michel’s own have offered their congratulations. The only leader to make any sort of comment was a sarcastic tweet from Ecolo co-president Zakia Khattabi: “The N-VA has lost its best ally,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile outside of Belgium, the Dutch Volkskrant describes Michel as “gifted” at bringing diverse groups together. Le Figaro in France calls him “someone who is accustomed to leading impossible coalitions”. And while the New York Times is distracted by Michel’s supposed nickname of Mr Potato Head, the Times of London has his appointment as “an enormous victory for [French president] Macron, who now has a close ally who is also an opponent of Brexit.”
The Brussels Times