German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged her support for Jean-Claude Juncker to become the next president of the European Commission. Until now, Merkel had been tight-lipped about the issue.
Speaking at a Catholic Assembly in the southern German city of Regensburg on Friday, Chancellor Merkel said the winning candidate in Sunday's European election should get the post.
"I am holding all talks in this spirit, that Jean-Claude Juncker should become president of the European Commission," Merkel said.
Until now, the chancellor had avoided coming out clearly in favor of either Juncker, whose conservative European People's Party won the most votes in Sunday's elections for the European Parliament, or Martin Schulz, whose Social Democrats finished second.
The two men were among five lead candidates put forward by the main blocs in the European Parliament, in a bid to generate higher voter turnout than for past elections.
Juncker is a former long-time prime minister of Luxembourg and Merkel's Christian Democrats are a key member of the European People's Party. Martin Schulz is the president of the European Parliament and a member of the Social Democrats, the partners in the grand coalition government that Merkel leads.
Following talks with other European Union leaders in Brussels on Tuesday, the chancellor had not ruled out supporting Juncker, but said that who would become European Commission president could only be decided in negotiations to run until late June.
Merkel faced criticism at home for her non-committal position to her own bloc's candidate, but in fact, how the successor to current European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso will be chosen is a complex process.
The winning candidate will have to win the support of a majority of deputies in the European Parliament, which could take time, because while the EPP won the most seats, it fell far short of a majority. This means Juncker would have to win the support of deputies from other political groupings. However, Juncker did get a bit of a boost earlier in the week, when Parliamentary leaders called for him to be given the first chance to drum up the necessary support.
Assuming he does that though, he will also need to win the approval of the leaders of the European Union's 28 member states. Whether he can do this is not clear, with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron expressing the strongest opposition to Juncker getting the job, at a European Summit earlier in the week.
pfd/dr (dpa, AFP, Reuters)