PARIS (Reuters) - Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker would listen favourably to calls to serve as the European Union’s first president, he was quoted as saying by French newspaper Le Monde on Tuesday.
The contest for the European Union’s new top job has already thrown up several names and exposed divisions. An early front runner, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has seen his support decline partly because of Britain’s patchy EU record.
Juncker, who chairs the Eurogroup of countries that use the euro currency, may be seen by some as a unifying candidate. But he lacks French support, European diplomats have said.
Asked whether he was a candidate for the post, which will become a reality when the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty comes into force, Juncker said: “I have learnt that you must never declare yourself a candidate for such a post. You must let others ask you to take it. If I received such a call, I would have no reason to refuse to hear it.”
Juncker’s name has been mentioned for weeks as a possible alternative candidate to Blair, but his comments to Le Monde were the closest he has come to confirming he was in the running.
EU leaders had hoped to agree on a candidate at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. But they now look likely to put off a decision because the Czech Republic has not approved the Lisbon Treaty, which reforms EU institutions.
Juncker, who is the prime minister of Luxembourg, was one of the main architects of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which led to the creation of the euro, and has on many occasions acted as a mediator between bigger nations on contentious EU issues.
“My long experience has taught me that the Union has not been built only with the ideas of the big countries, which often diverge. It is often the small and medium countries that create consensus, even though the big ones feign to ignore that,” he said.
Asked about Blair, Juncker said he did not object personally to the former British prime minister but rather to Britain’s record as an EU partner.
“I can’t really identify any area in which Britain has shown real European inspiration over the past 10 years, apart from a few advances on defence,” he said.
Juncker added that in theory, Europe should be represented by “someone whose main concern is to serve Europe and to unify it around a virtuous consensus, and who would not pretend to represent it abroad without having ensured its internal unity.”
He also said that one of the pillars of EU credibility was the single currency, which Britain has refused to join.
Juncker brushed aside the suggestion that he would be hampered by tense relations with some other leaders, both inside and outside the bloc.
“I am not a minion. I have friendly relations with (Russian Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, contrary to what the British press has been saying. And I have known China’s leaders for a long time,” he said.
Juncker also said that he had good relations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel despite past tensions over the EU response to the economic crisis and Luxembourg’s role as a tax haven for some Germans.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon, editing by James Mackenzie and Janet McBride