António Costa: Pioneering the European Council with a Portuguese touch

Who is António Costa, and what does his presidency mean for the EU?


It was a historic moment for Portugal and the European Union (EU) as former prime minister of Portugal, António Luís Santos da Costa, has been elected as the President of the European Council in Brussels. He became the first Portuguese leader to hold this position, and the appointment marks a significant milestone in European politics. The appointment was “almost” a certainty but was only confirmed during the leaders' meeting in Brussels.

But who is António Costa, and what does his presidency mean for the EU?

Born in 1961, António Costa was a lawyer turned pro-politician with a strong socialist background and a member of the Partido Socialista or Socialist Party (PS) of Portugal. During his tenure as the prime minister of Portugal, he carried out packages to revitalize Lisbon and Portugal as a whole. His leadership style combines pragmatism with a commitment to social justice, making him a respected leader both locally and internationally.

Before becoming the prime minister, he served multiple terms as a cabinet minister in Portugal, became the vice president of the European Parliament, and later the mayor of Lisbon.

Nicknamed “Gandhi of Lisbon” for his frugal lifestyle and his Indian roots, in 2017, he was presented the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the President of India. He also holds an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card.

The news of the presidency was confirmed by the current President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who in a tweet on X announced António Costa as the new President of the European Council.

Notably, Costa’s name wasn’t initially on the table. The council chose him despite his absence from the initial list of candidates, signalling a willingness to consider unconventional options and also Portugal’s growing influence in the EU. At a press conference, Charles Michel praised the speed of the election process for António Costa. He considers it a strong sign of European democracy and unity.

Diplomatic sources report that the decision was made during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, where leaders of the European Union (EU) also put forward a proposal for Ursula von der Leyen to lead the European Commission for a second term.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, stated following her nomination for a second term (which is contingent upon the European Parliament's final approval) that she was "honoured and delighted" to be sharing the appointment with António Costa and Kaja Kallas (Estonian prime minister) to top EU positions.

In the European Council—an institution that convenes the heads of government and state from EU member states—Costa’s appointment was made by a qualified majority vote (55 per cent of the 27 member states) representing 65 per cent of the total population.

Sense of mission

Through X (formerly Twitter), António Costa announced that it will be "With a huge sense of mission" that he will assume the responsibility of being the next president of the European Council. Costa also thanked the council members for their support and trust. He also guarantees that his priority will be unity and harmony between member states.

The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has already congratulated this decision, in a statement published on the Presidency's website. He added that the European Commission's decision to appoint Antonio Costa as the next president was a "remarkable decision" for Europe as well as Portugal and also mentioned, “EU would be in good hands”. The current prime minister of Portugal, Luis Montenegro, also congratulated his predecessor on his appointment as President of the European Commission, saying "The decision would be more cohesive and capable of building bridges". Costa's personal commitment and work already showed harmony and progress in Portugal and the EU.

After resigning following a judicial investigation over a corruption scandal, the former Portuguese prime minister said he was not going to be in politics for a while. However, later the accusations against Costa were ruled out. The recent elections seemed to have had concerns over Costa's standing as a candidate. Also, just 10 days ago, uncertainty loomed as Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk raised questions about António Costa’s competence and the need for legal clarification. However, recent developments suggest that these concerns no longer pose an obstacle to his appointment.

The roles of the President of the European Council were established by the Treaty of Lisbon, signed on December 13, 2007. Herman Van Rompuy, also former Belgian prime minister, was the first to hold this position for two terms, from December 1, 2009 to November 30, 2014. Now, the former PM António Costa is all set to succeed the Belgian Charles Michel (in office since 2019).

Costa’s policies have always focused on prioritizing social well-being, economic stability and environmental sustainability—a departure from the more conservative leadership that has been observed in recent years. And further, as a socialist, he is also expected to bring a fresh perspective to the role.

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