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Europe

Belgian Leader's Chances to Head EU Executive Improve

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, one of the front-runners for the job of European Commission president, pulled out of the race yesterday to continue to lead his own country.

Hopes among center-right EPP party circles to prevent the appointment of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt as European Commission president were dashed Tuesday, as the EPP's rival candidate, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, officially pulled out of the race. According to Belgian daily De Standaard, Juncker officially informed EPP leaders Tuesday night that he would not be available for the post. Juncker's announcement came after he was appointed to form a new government in Luxembourg, after winning national elections on Sunday. Juncker was said to be one of the few candidates for the Brussels top job who had almost unanimous support among EU leaders. "Everybody wants him," said Irish Prime Minister and President of the European Council Bertie Ahern after recent tour of EU capitals. Juncker, however, cannot be fully ruled out as he may come under pressure from Paris and Berlin to reconsider his decision. According to The Irish Times, Ahern is likely to recommend Liberal party politician Verhofstadt to EU leaders on Thursday during an EU summit in Brussels where the decision on the presidency will be taken. (EUobserver.com)

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