President of the European Council: Charles Michel

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Belgium’s youngest prime minister for more than 150 years is an economic reformer who has spent four years at the helm grappling with his country’s political polarisation. His father Louis was a prominent national politician who spent part of his career in the European Commission.

As European Council president, Mr Michel’s main task will be chairing summits and brokering deals between often fractious groups of EU leaders — a challenge for which Belgian politics is a peerless training ground.

Mr Michel had limited experience of high office when complex coalition talks in 2014 led to his appointment as prime minister. He led an unorthodox government that brought together liberals, conservatives and a large separatist party. 

A leading member of Belgium’s francophone liberal party, Mr Michel managed to contain the tensions in his coalition until it fell apart in December over migration policy. Since then he has served as caretaker prime minister. 

His Reformist Movement party was tainted in the minds of some voters by association with the separatist New Flemish Alliance party’s hardline immigration policy, contributing to a rise in support for the greens and socialists. 

During his time as prime minister, Mr Michel led the country through its worst peacetime terrorist attacks, when Brussels was struck by co-ordinated suicide bombings on a metro train and at the city’s airport in March 2016. 

He faced a very different challenge in 2016, when the regional parliament of Wallonia rebelled against a planned EU-Canada trade deal, blocking Belgium’s ratification. 

Mr Michel was forced to engage in frantic shuttle diplomacy between Brussels and Namur while other European leaders stuck at the summit watched in disbelief.

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EU foreign policy chief: Josep Borrell


Josep Borrell, the Spanish foreign minister nominated as the EU’s next foreign policy chief, has had near-misses in domestic socialist power struggles but made an unexpected late-career political comeback.

An anti-secessionist Catalan and former European Parliament president, Mr Borrell was elevated to the foreign ministry last year after Pedro Sanchez took over as prime minister.

Mr Borrell’s appointment would mark a generational shift in an EU foreign policy job that crosses the globe as part of the bloc’s effort to establish credibility as a world power. At 72, Mr Borrell is a full quarter century older than Federica Mogherini, the current foreign policy chief, whose intense travel schedule has been a prominent feature of her tenure.

He may also face political tensions: part of his job is to oversee a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the former province of Serbia that Spain and four other EU countries do not recognise as an independent state.

Mr Borrell was born in the western Catalan province of Lleida and gathered degrees in aeronautical engineering, economics and mathematics in Spain, France and the US. He lectured in maths for 10 years at the University of Madrid before switching into government in 1982 as general budget secretary.

He served as minister of public works, telecommunications, transport and the environment for five years before losing out in a power struggle with Joaquín Almunia to lead the socialists into the 2000 election — which they lost to José María Aznar’s People’s Party.

Mr Borrell shifted his attention to the European stage and — as a newly-elected MEP — he was a surprise choice for the EU parliament presidency in 2004. He was immediately embroiled in an institutional crisis caused by French and Dutch rejection of a planned bloc constitution. The parliament he led was also the first to be elected after the bloc’s “big bang” enlargement into central and eastern Europe.

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Via Financial Times