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Juncker ‘not the right person’ - PM

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REUTERS

Candidate for the European Commission presidency Jean-Claude Juncker arrives at an European People's Party meeting in Kortrijk. Picture: Francois Lenoir

Brussels -

Jean-Claude Juncker, expected to be named next head of the European Commission on Friday, is a veteran EU insider and arch-pragmatist with a love of a drink and a dry sense of humour.

The former prime minister of Luxembourg has faced down fierce opposition from Britain to secure support from other European leaders to lead the EU's executive arm.

Friday's EU summit was likely to be a fractious affair as British Prime Minister David Cameron forces an unprecedented vote on Juncker's nomination.

“He is not the right person to take this organisation forward,” Cameron insisted on Friday after weeks of arguing Juncker is too federalist for the job.

Other European countries have come round to the idea of a Juncker presidency, rather than backing him as the obvious candidate all along.

But despite all the heat and light, Juncker, the son of a metal worker, is still expected to emerge as one of the most powerful men in Europe.

After leading Luxembourg for 19 years, he made his mark in Brussels during the eurozone debt crisis as head of the eurogroup of finance ministers for eight years to 2013.

The 59-year-old helped steer the single currency bloc through a debt crisis which nearly wrecked it, playing a key role in negotiating the hardline programmes imposed in return for EU and International Monetary Fund debt bailouts in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus.

But he also backed a change of tack to focus more on growth once the crisis eased from late 2012.

Juncker was also known for his ability to reconcile the often sharply differing views of France and Germany, the bloc's top two economies.

“When I want to speak in French, I think in German; when I want to speak in German, I think in French, with the result that I am totally incomprehensible,” he once joked.

He has “two fatal flaws - he has an opinion and he is not afraid to share it”, said one European official of his other qualities.

Juncker was backed for the Commission post by the centre-right European People's Party, the largest single group in the new assembly, allowing its candidate to claim the Commission job by right.

But Cameron dislikes that system and fears that Juncker is unlikely to promote reforms which could convince British voters to remain inside the EU in a referendum which could be held in 2017.

Juncker was born in 1954 in a Europe still struggling to rise from the wreckage of World War II, when his father was press-ganged into the German army.

Juncker senior was a strong influence on his son, not least for his experiences as a metal worker and union member.

A smoker, Juncker appreciates the finer things in life - including fine cognac - and holds firmly to the political right.

But true to his form as a pragmatic operator, he is suspicious of the idea that free market economics can solve all problems.

“Juncker, he is the most socialist Christian Democrat there is,” longtime Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit once said of his longstanding foe.

But perhaps the biggest test of his political flexibility will be whether he can work with Britain in the aftermath of such a public row. - Sapa-AFP


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