BRUSSELS – Barend Leyts, spokesman for European Council President Charles Michel, is resigning, according to an EU official.
Leyts is leaving to become director of communications for Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo as soon as he takes over, said the same official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the complexity of the topic.
Leyts began working for Michel in October 2014, serving as the Dutch politician’s spokesman when he became Belgian prime minister. Leyts then followed Michel to the European Council in December 2019, where Michel was appointed to lead the body that brings together all 27 EU leaders to set the bloc’s agenda.
Leyts declined to comment. According to the same EU official, Leyts is only leaving his job to find “new opportunities.”
The move comes ahead of next June’s European elections and before Belgium takes over the EU’s six-month presidency in January.
It also follows a to announce that De Croo’s communications director, Tom Meulenbergs, will go to the private sector “at the end of August.” Meulenbergs has been an important member of the De Croo team for many years, playing an important role in building the political history. The project helped propel De Croo to the top post in 2020 even though his party, Open VLD, was not the largest in Belgium after the 2019 elections.
De Croo’s future is currently unknown. Belgium will hold elections in 2024 and it is unclear whether the seven-party coalition will still have enough seats in parliament to continue, as several parties have withdrawn from the elections. For his part, Mr De Croo has expressed interest in remaining prime minister after the election.
Diplomats have also said that Mr De Croo could be a candidate to lead one of the EU institutions in next year’s European elections.
During his time at the European Council, Leyts focused on his boss, Michel. There was an important explanation in books like POLITICO and The worldand Sofagate – the scandal that sparked accusations of sexism and discord within the EU after Michel took a seat next to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leaving European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in the next seat.
The incident highlights the serious tensions that officials say have existed between Michel and von der Leyen during Leyts.
Before entering politics, Mr. Leyts was a reporter for the Belgian radio station VTM, where he covered a wide range of topics, including Belgian politics and Belgian royalty.