Merkel’s party backs Juncker to lead conservatives in EU elections

German backing key ahead of next week’s Dublin meeting

Even now, despite CDU support, Berlin officials are concerned that Jean-Claude Juncker’s  outspoken style has put many noses out of joint in other European capitals. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

Even now, despite CDU support, Berlin officials are concerned that Jean-Claude Juncker’s outspoken style has put many noses out of joint in other European capitals. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

Wed, Feb 26, 2014, 01:00

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has backed Jean-Claude Juncker to lead Europe’s conservative bloc in May’s European elections.

A CDU spokesman put an end to months of speculation by confirming the party headed by Dr Merkel, as well as her Bavarian CSU allies, favoured the former Luxembourg prime minister as the European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate at its congress in Dublin next week.

CDU general secretary Peter Tauber described Mr Juncker, who served as Luxembourg leader for 18 years, as “an outstanding European”.

Mr Tauber said the CDU board had voted unanimously for Mr Juncker, ending months of speculation about who Dr Merkel would support in the race.

Rumours ran the gamut, from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Polish prime minister Donald Tusk and, of late, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Mr Juncker is considered a strong candidate in Berlin because of his eight years heading the euro group, his high profile around the continent and his command of German. Until now the closest Dr Merkel has come to an endorsement was her admission earlier this month that it “isn’t a secret I have a good deal of sympathy for Jean-Claude Juncker”. However, she insisted the final EPP nomination decision “hasn’t been taken and won’t be taken by me alone”.

Euro crisis
Dr Merkel’s support for Mr Juncker was far from a given after the two fell out at the peak of the euro crisis. When the German leader ruled out joint sovereign debt as a solution to the euro crisis, Mr Juncker accused her of adopting an “un-European approach”.

Complicating matters further is Dr Merkel’s reported unhappiness at the lead candidate proposal, a new departure for EU elections that has seen Europe’s socialist camp nominate Martin Schulz, the German-born Social Democrat (SPD) and European Parliament president.

Last autumn German media reported that Dr Merkel had cooled on Mr Juncker. Even now, despite CDU support, Berlin officials are concerned that his outspoken style has put many noses out of joint in other European capitals. Leading German media outlets have cooled on Mr Juncker too, breaking a long-held taboo by running articles that made public rumours about his alcohol consumption.

It remains to be seen whether CDU support for Mr Juncker means Dr Merkel would ultimately support the long-serving ex-prime minister to head the next European Commission.

Senior German officials have expressed doubt that the EPP lead candidate, even if successful in attracting the most votes across the continent, has first refusal on the top commission job.