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Merkel says Juncker should head European Commission

Published on 30/05/2014

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that Jean-Claude Juncker, the former premier of Luxembourg, should become the next European Commission president, succeeding Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso.

Because he had been the European conservatives’ declared top candidate for last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, “I am holding all talks in this spirit, that Jean-Claude Juncker should become president of the European Commission,” Merkel said.

The comment was Merkel’s clearest statement of support yet for veteran politician Juncker, 59, the former head of the crisis-fighting Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, who is however opposed by several other European conservative leaders.

Merkel, who was criticised in the German media this week for not speaking out more clearly for Juncker, stressed however that talks would continue and that “thoroughness is more important than speed” in making the top appointment.

European leaders hostile to Juncker include British Prime Minister David Cameron, Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt, Hungary’s Viktor Orban and, according to several European sources, the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte and Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, who has also been mentioned for the post.

Merkel, who made the comment at a Catholic church meeting in the southern German city of Regensburg, is set to meet the British, Dutch and Swedish leaders at a mini-summit near Stockholm on June 9 and 10.

EU leaders have traditionally named the Commission head on their own, but under new rules they now have to “take into account” the results of last Sunday’s European parliamentary elections, though the exact definition of that remains unclear.

– People’s will or backroom deal -After Sunday’s vote, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) — to which Juncker’s, Merkel’s and the other conservative parties belong — will be the biggest, if somewhat reduced, single political group.

The EPP won 213 out of 751 seats in the European Parliament, and its top candidate laid claim to the post on Sunday evening.

However, Juncker must now win a double majority — that of the EU heads of state and government, and of at least 376 votes in Parliament to beat his main rival, the Socialist candidate Martin Schulz, a German.

All five candidates from the outgoing Parliament’s major groups have warned of political turmoil if EU leaders do not choose the next Commission head from among them, saying relations with Parliament would be severely damaged.

On Monday, the day after the election, Merkel had welcomed the campaign of Juncker, “our candidate for president of the European Commission”, but was quick to add that discussions on top EU appointments were now needed.

She stressed that no party had won enough votes alone to appoint a new Commission president and that “I have to respect the European treaties,” making clear that Parliament would not decide the appointment all by itself.

Germany’s top-selling Bild daily Friday criticised apparent plans by EU leaders including Merkel to ignore the top election candidates — and therefore the will of EU voters — by holding backroom talks to search for another candidate.

“It’s very clear: Europeans want Juncker to become EU President,” Bild said in an editorial.

“Schulz won the second-best result.

It must not be a third candidate who didn’t stand for election.

Otherwise democracy becomes a farce.

“That may have been possible in East Germany or in a far-right banana republic,” it added, in apparent stabs at the former communist state under which Merkel grew up, and against Hungary.

“But not in the EU.

Otherwise it will abolish itself.

“The head of Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats, Yasmin Fahimi, reacted to Merkel’s latest comments by saying: “It’s a good thing that public pressure forced Merkel to change course.

Everything else would have meant a betrayal of the voters.