Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, the EU Council Secretary-General, resigned on Wednesday to take up a post as head of the foreign ministry in his native Denmark.
The veteran Danish diplomat has been the Council’s chief bureaucrat since July 1, 2015. In 2020 he was reappointed for a second term until July 1, 2025.
In a letter to council staff seen by POLITICO, Tranholm-Mikkelsen wrote: “I have been offered the opportunity to return to the country I know best and become Permanent Secretary of State at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I expect to start my new position on May 1, 2022.”
The resignation came as a surprise to many colleagues and staff – including European Council President Charles Michel, who must now consider a swift transition as the EU grapples with a complicated set of issues, particularly sanctions policy and other related measures with the war in Ukraine and its repercussions in the European economy.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen, who served as Denmark’s ambassador to the EU and before that as ambassador to China, said in his letter to colleagues that he accepted this new post after almost seven years in office because “for me personally it represents a real opportunity represents. I started this ministry 30 years ago and the offer to lead it now is an opportunity I simply cannot refuse.”
As Head of the General Secretariat of the Council, Tranholm-Mikkelsen faced the ever-difficult challenge of leading EU member countries – either their leaders or their ministers and ambassadors – to the unanimity required for most major decisions.
Among other things, the General Secretariat is responsible for supporting and preparing the meetings of the European Council, the collective of EU heads of state and government where the most important decisions are made. The General Secretariat also provides a permanent infrastructure for the EU Council Presidency, which rotates to a different member country every six months.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod announced the appointment in a press release, citing: “Jeppe is an internationally recognized top diplomat with an impressive international network of the highest caliber.” Tranholm-Mikkelsen’s previous experience in the EU, in the Danish Prime Minister’s Office and in the Foreign Service, Kofod explained: “This is important at a time when Denmark is having to navigate increasingly difficult foreign and security policy waters.”
shoes to fill
In contrast to the 30,000-strong civil service of the European Commission, the Council employs about 3,000 people, and Michel himself has a team of only a few dozen. The General Secretariat also plays a crucial role in the regular meetings of EU ambassadors (known as Coreper), the frequency of which has increased from once or twice a week to often three a week during the pandemic and war. Coreper prepares the ministerial meetings in all the different Council configurations and is also the place where member states discuss sanctions.
Diplomats said finding a replacement is not easy, especially in the short term.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen was a close, trusted adviser to former European Council President Donald Tusk. But according to some diplomats, Tranholm-Mikkelsen was not that close to Michel, the current president, who is a former Belgian prime minister and works with a very close inner circle.
Still, officials with direct knowledge of the relationship said Michel was very respectful of Tranholm-Mikkelsen and they noted the Dane was reappointed with Michel’s support in April 2020 at the height of the Corona crisis.
“Jeppe has both a good political nose and a very effective administrator,” said a diplomat who served with him in Brussels. “As General Secretary you have to have a clear head. you have to be tough But you also have to be very aware and pay attention to the concerns of the Member States and not just the larger Member States. Jeppe was exceptionally good at that.”
Additional pressure to fill the role comes from the fact that the Council does not have a deputy general secretary organizational structuremeaning there is no apparent temporary replacement.
Among the possible successors speculated about is the French ambassador to the EU, Philippe Léglise-Costa. Still, Paris is already seen as very close to Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and as the main country calling the shots at the European External Action Service, the EU’s foreign policy arm.
With France currently holding the rotating Council of EU Presidency, such a move could be seen as over-control from Paris. Léglise-Costa was mentioned as a possible replacement for Tranholm-Mikkelsen in 2020 before it was clear he would be given a second term.
Another possible candidate is the Dutch ambassador to the EU, Robert de Groot, who is also admired by colleagues and has the necessary cool negotiating skills. De Groot would also have the advantage of not being from a big country.
However, candidates from major countries are not automatically disqualified.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen’s predecessor was Uwe Corsepius, who served as an advisor to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Corsepius replaced a former French ambassador to the EU, Pierre de Boissieu. Diplomats noted that Corsepius, who served as secretary-general from 2011 to 2015, had shown that advisers to EU leaders could also fill the post.
When Michel chooses someone to succeed Tranholm-Mikkelsen, this person would need the approval of the heads of state and government at a summit. The Council of the EU would then formalize the appointment under Article 240(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.
https://www.politico.eu/article/jeppe-tranholm-mikkelsen-quits-top-eu-council-post/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen leaves top post on EU Council – POLITICO