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Reynders defeated in race to lead Council of Europe

Reynders defeated in race to lead Council of Europe

by host
Reynders defeated in race to lead Council of Europe

The Council of Europe elected Switzerland’s former president Alain Berset as its next secretary general, it said Tuesday evening, delivering a blow to Belgian candidate and EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders.

The Strasbourg-based human rights organization’s 306-member parliament held a secret ballot in two rounds on Tuesday. Berset won the second round with 114 votes in his favor on Tuesday afternoon; Estonia’s former culture minister Indrek Saar got 85 votes in the second round and Reynders came in third with 46 votes.

The Council of Europe has 46 member countries and includes the European Court of Human Rights. It is an independent body, separate from the European Union. Its secretary-general is elected for five years.

Reynders’ defeat is a major setback for the Belgian liberal politician, who ran to lead the Council of Europe already in 2019 but lost that race too.

He is expected to return to the European Commission as justice chief until the fall but it’s unclear where he will go next, amid a European Union overhaul for the next Commission mandate.

Reynders previously said he would be interested in remaining at the European Commission if he lost his Council of Europe bid. His French-speaking liberal Reformist Movement party (MR) in Belgium made serious gains in the last national, regional and European elections on June 9.

Berset is a member of the Social Democrats and served as president of Switzerland in 2018 and again in 2023. He was health and interior minister during the COVID-19 pandemic. He announced he would step down as president in June 2023, adding at the time he had no concrete plans on what was next — except for doing yoga.

Berset is expected to start in September.

The current secretary-general, former Croatian foreign minister Marija Pejčinović Burić, did not stand for a second term.

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