BERLIN (Reuters) - Jean-Claude Juncker said on Sunday he had won assurances from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would become the next European Commission president if their centre-right bloc wins the European parliamentary elections on May 22-25.
Juncker’s comments, made in an interview with Bild am Sonntag newspaper, contrasted with Merkel’s own suggestion on Saturday that the real choice might be made - as in the past - only after prolonged horse-trading between national governments.
Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, said he expected leaders of the 28 European Union governments to respect the will of the voters after the election.
“(If they did not) the voters would then know there was no need next time for them to bother voting because the parties would have broken their promises from before the election,” said Juncker, leading candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP).
“That’s why it won’t come to that. The EU government heads will respect the vote,” said Juncker, 59, a long-standing believer in a more federal Europe.
Asked if Merkel, whose Christian Democrats belong to the EPP, had given him a “firm commitment” that he would head the Commission if their bloc wins the election, Juncker said: “Yes, I’ve got that.”
Under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the 28 governments must take into account the results of the European elections in choosing a new head of the Commission, the Brussels-based EU executive that proposes laws and polices existing rules and policies.
However, there is no automatic guarantee that either Juncker or Martin Schulz of Germany, whose centre-left bloc is marginally ahead in opinion polls, will finally get the top job - something Merkel hinted at in her remarks on Saturday.
“It will certainly take a period of several weeks (after the election) before one can come to the necessary decisions,” Merkel said, stressing the complexity of negotiations needed to satisfy both voters and national governments around Europe.
In a vast election spread over four days and 28 countries, as many as 350 million people will be eligible to vote for members of the European Parliament, the bloc’s only directly elected body.
The new Commission president - replacing Jose Manuel Barroso - will assume office for five years from November, taking charge of an institution that, among its duties, takes the lead in international trade talks and coordinates foreign policy.
Echoing Juncker, Germany’s Schulz also warned of consequences if EU government leaders ignored the voters and picked a candidate not on the ballots.
“If the government leaders fiddle and pick another candidate, they would badly damage democracy in Europe,” Schulz told Bild am Sonntag. “It would be a mockery of the voters and then there would be no reason to bother with such elections.”
Editing by Gareth Jones