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Politics

European Social Democrats back Juncker's candidacy for Commission president

Leading Social Democrats have agreed to back conservative candidate Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the European Commission. It comes just days before EU leaders are to meet to try to decide the issue.

Center-left leaders meet

Germany's vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel told reporters at a meeting of European Social Democrats in Paris on Saturday that they had accepted that Jean-Claude Juncker should get the job.

"The Social Democrats agree the European People's Party won the European elections and that Jean-Claude Juncker should become president of the European Commission but we expect Social Democrats to hold other functions," said.

Last month's European Parliamentary elections saw the major political blocs name leading candidates for the first time, a move designed to give voters a say in who gets what is seen as the EU's highest-profile job. Juncker's conservatives, which include German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, won the most seats in the European Parliament, while Martin Schulz's Social Democrats finished second.

Gabriel said on Saturday that in return for backing Juncker's candidacy for Commission President, Social Democrats expected to see their members receive other key European jobs.

"Martin Schulz got the backing of all here...as the candidate for president of the European Parliament," he said of the man who until recently held that job, but had hoped to become Commission president instead.

While the conservatives won the most seats the European Parliament, they fell well short of a majority, and even if they manage to win the backing of a majority of parliamentarians for their man, they cannot decide on their own, who will replace outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The leaders of the 28 member states must also reach a consensus on a candidate, something that promises to be difficult.

While Chancellor Merkel has backed Juncker for the job, there is also opposition to the former Luxembourg prime minister, even from within the conservative camp. One of the strongest opponents to Juncker getting the job has been Britain's conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. The question of who should become the next president of the European Commission is expected to dominate discussions at an EU summit in Brussels later in the week.

Flexibility in cutting deficits

Gabriel said there was also a consensus among the Social Democrats meeting in Paris that while there should be no change to the rules limiting public deficits, these rules should be applied more flexibly so that countries struggling to pay down massive deficits could do more to help tackle unemployment.

Saturday's meeting, which was hosted by French President Francois Hollande, was also attended by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Belgium's Elio di Rupo, Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark, the Czech Republic's Bohuslav Sobotka, Victor Ponta of Romania, Slovak Robert Fico, and Malta's Joseph Muscat.

pfd/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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