The new European Council President Charles Michel called on Friday (29 November) for a more assertive role for Europe in the world, and promised to be “more cautious” on Twitter than his predecessor Donald Tusk.
Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, will be chairing the EU leaders’ gathering from 1 December and will represent the EU abroad on foreign and security issues, including in international summits.
“We have so many reasons to be confident, self-assured and assertive. We cannot sit on our hands in the most critical debates of our time,” Michel said.
Strengthening Europe’s sovereignty in the world is a shared priority for Brussels and the capitals, including for the new European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen.
In the handover ceremony, Michel described Tusk as a “true fighter for Europe” who never lost sight of his target: Europe’s unity.
Michel said he will have his “own style” and explained that he will be “open for dialogue” and “committed to building bridges”
“And perhaps, I will be more cautious with my tweets, at least at the beginning,” Michel added. “But certainly I will speak out when needed”.
Tusk has been known for being a straight talker who never refrained from speaking his mind, including on Twitter.
The former Polish prime minister once tweeted that there was “a special place in hell” for those who supported a disorderly Brexit.
Referring to Trump, he wrote: “with friends like that, who needs enemies”.
Michel stressed his “energy and optimism” about Europe’s future. “We should be proud of how far we have come,” he stated, but warned against complacency.
“We live in peace but we must remain vigilant.”
Foreign affairs and security will play an important part during his two-and-a-half-year mandate, extendable for another 30 months. He argued that Europe must project a self-confident image to the rest of the world, do more for European defence and security, as well as protect guarantees and freedoms.
He also highlighted the planned transition towards a greener economy as an important priority for the next years.
Tusk said that “for the past five years, I have had the privilege to serve Europe, not an abstract idea, but people, nations and their common interests”.
Tusk chaired the EU leaders’ gatherings in a turbulent period for Europe. Over the past five years, the 28 heads of state and government handled the Greek bailout, the migration crisis, Ukraine war, terrorists’ attacks, Brexit, and the increasingly difficult relationship with US President Donald Trump.
Still, Tusk concluded by stating that “Europe is the best place on Earth”, earning a big round of applause from EU officials and diplomats.
Tusk will now become the president of the centre-right European People’s Party.
Michel will chair his first European Council on 12-13 December. Leaders are expected to discuss, among other issues, the multiannual financial framework, the EU’s long-term budget, and a package to deepen the economic and monetary union.
“Let’s not follow the headlines. Let’s make the headlines. Positive stories, a clear vision, the result of hard work, ambition, and a forward-looking plan,” Michel told the audience.