Euro conservatives pick Juncker to seek top EU job

SHAWN POGATCHNIK
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Jean-Claude Juncker, left, with Jose Manuel Barroso President of the European Commission, Conservative politicians from across Europe are electing their candidate to succeed Jose Manuel Barroso as president of the European Commission, the most powerful post in the European Union. after being voted as the next candidate for the president of the European commission, during the European People's Party Elections Congress at the convention centre, Dublin, Ireland, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

DUBLIN (AP) — Conservative politicians from across Europe have elected former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as their candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, the most powerful post in the European Union.

Juncker triumphed Friday at the conclusion of a two-day European People's Party convention in Dublin, where he defeated Michel Barnier of France. Juncker received 382 votes to 245 for Barnier, the commission's internal markets minister.

Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal, the conservative bloc's previous choice, is stepping down as commission chief after 10 years in the job.

Juncker, 59, was always favorite after receiving critical backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose Christian Democratic Union was the largest voting bloc in a conference involving 49 parties from the EU's 28 nations.

Juncker conceded he faces a tough challenge to become president versus European Parliament leader Martin Schulz, a German whom the Socialists picked as their candidate for the commission presidency four months ago.

"We are lagging a little bit behind," Juncker said in comments translated from French. "We have to catch up to the Socialists and Mr. Schulz very quickly."

New rules give the largest party emerging from European Parliament elections in May the best chance to secure the leadership of the commission, the executive branch of the EU.

Juncker, a veteran EU dealmaker with an easy-going charm, was one of Europe's longest-serving government leaders as premier of tiny Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013. In his dual role as the duchy's finance minister, he led the Eurogroup of finance chiefs overseeing the euro — and efforts to defend the common currency during Europe's debt crisis — from 2005 to 2013.

Juncker invited Barnier on to the stage and embraced him. Both vowed to lead the European People's Party to success despite polls showing a rise in support for left-wing politics.

The EPP bloc holds 37 percent of seats in the 766-member European Parliament, Schulz's Socialists 25 percent. But a half-dozen recent opinion polls all have put the two blocs either tied or the Socialists narrowly ahead.