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António Costa moves closer to EUCO Presidency

On Sunday night, the greatest winner of the EU elections in Portugal was not on the ballot.

Shortly after the first results came out Prime Minister Luís Montenegro assumed publicly, for the first time, that he will do everything within his reach to ensure that the next President of the European Council is António Costa.

"It's possible that the Presidency of the European Council will go to a Socialist candidate. If Dr António Costa is a candidate for that post, the Democratic Alliance (AD) and the Portuguese government will not only support him but will do everything they can to ensure that his candidacy is successful," he said.

Asked if this support depends on the resolution of the legal case in which the former prime minister has been implicated, he replied: "If António Costa is a candidate - and he and his political family will decide whether he is a candidate - our decision is made".

Earlier on Sunday, António Costa had already admitted that it would be "important to have a Portuguese person in international institutions", but emphasised that he would never accept being president of the European Council without the support of the Portuguese government.

"I would never accept being president of the European Council without the support of my country's government. I could be, but I would never accept it," said the ex-governor, speaking to CMTV, where he commented on the results of Sunday's elections to the European Parliament.

António Costa recalled that, 20 years ago, he too supported the election of the Social Democrat Durão Barroso as president of the European Commission, as did other politicians.

António Costa also confirmed that he had already spoken to PM Montenegro about a possible candidacy and that he knew already his support.

So, at least as far as politics is concerned, the home front seems safe. More on this below.

Support among European leaders

At European-level, António Costa's chances also got a boost on Sunday.

With the Socialists & Democrats group coming out second in the EU elections, the chances of a Socialist taking the Presidency of the European Council (typically seen as the second-highest post after the Presidency of the European Commission) also increased.

Within this group, António Costa seems to be a consensual choice. As POLITICO reported on Thursday, June 13, he has strong arguments on his side: "He is well-liked by European Presidents and Prime Ministers of all stripes, and is viewed as a pleasant, fair-dealing negotiator with the skills needed to forge complex consensus decisions."

His main competitor for the job is the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, also a Socialist, who also wants it.

However, her chances are slim. She is from a northern country, which, with the more than likely choice of Von der Leyen for the Presidency of the European Commission, would not respect a certain regional balance that European governments like to maintain.

Mette Frederiksen's biggest problem, however, is her policy on immigration and the economy, which is sometimes closer to the centre-right than the centre-left.

No piece of cake

This doesn't mean that it will be a walk in the park for António Costa.

First, as keen observers of EU politics know, the distribution of the leading political positions in the European institutions (the so-called "Top Jobs") is a secretive and fickle affair, prone to unexpected last minute changes.

It all depends on how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together: if one of them falls out (say if, for example, Ursula Von der Leyen isn't appointed for a second term), then everything else could also change.

Then, there is another major obstacle: Costa remains the subject of a legal probe that brought down his Government and, as many of our readers will know, the Portuguese justice system is slow.

So, European leaders will have to overlook this factor when choosing the next President of the European Council. To Costa's advantage, they've done in the past: for example, President Ursula von der Leyen was tapped for the post while an investigative committee of the German parliament was examining whether lucrative contracts had been awarded without proper oversight during her time as defense minister.

However, the Qatargate cash-for-influence scandal, as well as the rise of far-right groups campaigning against corruption, suggests that they might not be so forgiving this time.


Either way, we won't have to wait for long to know the answer. Leaders are expected to hold a first discussion on the topic at an informal dinner of European leaders on June 17. A formal decision will be taken at the European Council on June 27-28.

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