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Merkel backs Juncker, hints at alternative

Chancellor Angela Merkel has again backed Jean-Claude Juncker as the next politician to head the European Commission. Her reiteration came during a visit to Berlin by Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Merkel sidestepped Britain's objection to Juncker on Thursday while heaping praise on Denmark's Thorning-Schmidt (pictured right). She has been tipped to possibly succeed Herman Van Rompuy as European Council president - a second key post in Brussels.

Asked by reporters if she could imagine the 47-year-old Danish Social Democrat in either job, Merkel said again that

Germany supported the former Luxembourg Prime Minister Juncker for the commission job.

Denmark's position as a non-eurozone country was irrelevant when it came to choosing the next council president, Merkel added. "There is no such rule."

Referring to next week's EU summit in Brussels, Merkel said it was not clear whether EU heads of state would decide on appointments as a package.

She then added: "Anyway the Danish prime minister is a great prime minister and I've got the impression that she really enjoys her work back home."

Thorning-Schmidt said she agreed that the policy agenda for the next five years to be laid out by leaders next week was more important than who would implement it.

"Jean-Claude Juncker is a very good candidate," Thorning-Schmidt said, adding that Denmark would back the candidate who also gathered the "broadest possible support" in the European Parliament.

Britain opposes Juncker

Earlier this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to obstruct Juncker, whom he regards as a federalist who would not adopt reforms demanded by London.

Merkel said she would continue to talk "very constructively" with Britain about issues such as reducing bureaucracy.

The selected nominee for European Commission president faces a first vote in the European Parliament in mid-July.

Meeting in Paris, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Harlem Desir, and his Italian counterpart, Sandro Gozi, said the European Council's agenda should focus on promoting public investment notably in digital and energy networks.

Desir said the EU should consider a European savings plan to encourage citizens' to invest in small business and priority infrastructure projects such as the transition to renewable sources of energy.

Gozi said Rome would also demand that its EU partners share more of the burden in coping with

boat migrants trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean.

ipj/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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