António Costa gets green light to be President of the European Council

 In EU, News

Portugal’s former Prime Minister, António Costa has been given the green light to take up the post of President of the European Council.

He will join Ursula von der Leyen as head of the European Commission and Estonia’s Kaja Kallas at the Foreign Policy Service.

The next step is for the three names to be presented at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels tomorrow (Thursday 27 June) for their approval.

According to Politico, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wrote on social media after the news broke Tuesday that the deal the EPP “made with the leftists and the liberals runs against everything that the EU was based on. Instead of inclusion, it sows the seeds of division. EU top officials should represent every member state, not just leftists and liberals!”

António Costa has long hankered after a plum job in Brussels, but his suitability has been called into question last year when in November he resigned as Portugal’s Prime Minister after his PS socialist government was embroiled in an alleged web of corruption, favours, and influence peddling regarding lithium and green hydrogen contracts. None of the claims were substantiated, but did spark a national debate on the fine line between lobbying and trafficking of influence, and the right of Portugal’s Public Ministry and police to arrest figures without any concrete evidence.

However, his status as a ‘testemunha’ (witness) in the ongoing judicial probe into corruption and influence-peddling does not seem to be a stumbling block. António Costa has always fiercely protested his innocence.

It also has emerged in local press that prosecutors had mistakenly mixed up Costa’s name with that of Economy Minister António Costa Silva in wiretap transcripts, throwing the credibility of the legal case into question.

Nationally, one thing is Costa’s favour is the support from the current Prime Minister, Luís Montenegro who has vowed to do everything in his power to support his bid, an endorsement considered pivotal in giving credibility to Costa’s claim to the Council presidency.

The Portuguese premier said he has “more trust” in Costa than he would have in a socialist of another nationality, and has hailed his strong track record in promoting European integration, backing Ukraine and supporting the EU’s enlargement process.

According to Euronews, Costa is said to be well-liked by Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen – whilst her relationship with the current Council President Charles Michel is frosty at best – and has been a constructive partner in the European Council for almost a decade.

Ultimately, it is Costa’s “capacity for dialogue” as “a good negotiator” that will give him the edge, according to the European Policy Centre’s Ricardo Borges de Castro in comments to Euronews.

But there is another aspect to his selection. Left-leaning António Costa would provide a bulwark against an increasingly divided and far-right European Council, with one EU official telling Politico that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni “won’t like that she (again) wasn’t involved in the negotiations”.