May 23. 2024. 8:51

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Portugal’s president hints Costa for EU council chief, as corruption case flounders

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has dropped hints about the prospects of Socialist former prime minister Antonio Costa heading to Brussels to take the role of president of the European Council as a court case related to corruption flounders in the appeal courts.

“I have the feeling that it is becoming more likely that there will be a Portuguese member of the European Council this autumn in Brussels,” said Rebelo de Sousa told journalists on Wednesday.

The president previously positioned Costa as a strong candidate for the position, stating in December 2023 that he wished he “was in a position to have a place in Europe” in the role currently held by Charles Michel.

He added that putting Costa in the role would allow the former prime minister to continue “to do what he does well.”

In March, Rebelo de Sousa’s stance was bolstered by Nicolas Schmit, the European Socialist Party’s main candidate for the June European Elections. Schmit said that Costa could “occupy main good positions” at the European level, particularly that of head of the European Council.

However, Costa’s path to one of the EU’s top jobs is not free from obstacles. In November 2023, Costa resigned from the post of prime minister after police searched his official residence amid a corruption probe.

The investigation centred on allegations of corruption over several hydrogen and lithium projects in the country, including the misuse of funds, active and passive corruption and influence peddling involving political figures.

While it was later reported that the prosecution had mistranscribed wiretaps mentioning Costa’s name, confusing it with Economy Minister Antonio Costa Silva, the damage was already done.

While Costa said he had a “clear conscience” and “complete trust in justice”, he stepped down as he said the duties of a prime minister were incompatible with any suspicion of his integrity.

Costa was serving a third consecutive term as prime minister after securing an absolute majority during the January 2022 snap elections. Following his resignation, a new government took over, and Prime Minister Luis Montenegro was appointed at the beginning of April 2024.

Costa has not been formally charged with any offence.

Meanwhile, the court case, known as “Operation Influencer”, implicating Costa has dragged on and was transferred from the Public Prosecutor’s Office to the Central Department of Investigation and Criminal Action, last week.

Then, the Lisbon Court of Appeal rejected an appeal from the prosecutor’s office, reducing coercion measures against the accused, who include Antonio’s former chief of staff and a former consultant and friend.

The appeals court also found that “the facts found are not, in themselves, part of any type of criminal offence”, meaning that it ruled out evidence of the crime of influence peddling.

The president refused to comment on the latest court decision, stating, “I’m not going to comment on justice decisions, but I’ll repeat in another way a comment I’ve already made which is more political,” said Rebelo de Sousa, nodding once again at the possibility of Costa in the EU role.

It has been mentioned for months that Costa could be headed to Brussels, but it will be a race against time to clear his name of any links to alleged wrongdoing before the top job at the council becomes available.

Read more with Euractiv

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