After EU elections with a strong shift to the euroskeptic right, choosing a new European Commission president is Europe's next task. Conservative Jean-Claude Juncker appears best-placed, but Angela Merkel was cautious.
The lead candidate for the center-right European People's Party (EPP) alliance, long-term Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Monday that he was ready to take up the presidency of the European Commission.
"I'm not on my knees. I won the election," Juncker said in a sometimes terse 30-minute exchange with reporters on Monday morning. The Luxembourg leader at one point responded sharply to a question on reservations over his candidacy from Britain and some other countries, saying he had answered the question a thousand times.
Angela Merkel took a comparatively tight-lipped approach to the issue in Berlin on Monday, saying that a lengthy period of negotiation was likely after no single alliance won a clear majority in the European Parliament.
"We will of course be going into this debate with Jean-Claude Juncker as the candidate," Merkel said, before warning that the divided political landscape would require a strong alliance. "We need intensive discussions, which have not even begun yet."
Merkel said neither the center-right EPP, with a provisional 213-14 seats out of 751, nor the center-left Socialists and Democrats (189-990 seats) had a clear mandate to pick the commission president to succeed Jose Manuel Barroso.
'Remarkable and regrettable'
Merkel said that EU leaders, gathering in Brussels for their post-election summit on Tuesday, would likely charge European Council President Herman van Rompuy with investigating Juncker's suitability in talks with European Parliament leaders. This process might be concluded, Merkel said, in time for the June gathering of the EU's 28 heads of government.
The German chancellor also said it was "remarkable and regrettable" that euroskeptic and far-right parties fared so well in much of Europe, ruling out an alliance with the euroskeptic "Alternative für Deutschland" (AfD) party, which won more than 7 percent support in Germany.
The German vote was less dominated by either anti-EU or anti-immigration parties as many in Europe, especially the UK and France. In Britain, the euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won more seats than any mainstream party, while France's National Front (FN) claimed the most of any group. UKIP has ruled out an alliance with the FN, saying the party's too closely tied to racism and anti-Semitism.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the voting trends in Europe were concerning, but sought to include the domestic debate as well.
"France is of course a bad signal with the National Front, and for me it's a horror, that even Germany's NPD will also be represented at the European Parliament," Steinmeier said.
Germany's far-right NPD, which many political rivals are seeking to outlaw, won one seat in the election. This success was the result of a Constitutional Court ruling earlier in the year that outlawed the 3-percent hurdle formerly in place for German parties running in the European elections.
SPD sees 'victory' in second spot
Juncker's main center-left rival for the commission presidency, German politician Martin Schulz, described the Social Democrats' performance as "a win for the SPD." Schulz said the alliance had managed to reverse its negative trend of previous elections and improve "considerably," saying this would "influence the domestic politics of Germany too."
German Social Democrat party chair Sigmar Gabriel similarly hailed the "very good election results," also singling out Schulz for praise in turning 20.8 percent in 2009 into 27.3 percent support on Sunday.
"This election win has a name, and that is Martin Schulz," Gabriel said.
The vote was billed as a chance for Europeans to directly elect an individual to a position of genuine power in Brussels, with each party or alliance posting a continent-wide lead candidate - but in practice, the situation is a little more complex. Any future European Commission president will need approval both from EU heads of government and from the new European Parliament deputies.
msh/xx (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)