(Adds detail, quotes, Desir/Gozi talks)
By Michelle Martin
BERLIN, June 19 German Chancellor Angela Merkel
heaped praise on Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on
Thursday and said there was no reason why the next president of
the European Council should not come from a non-euro zone
country such as Denmark.
British officials have mentioned Thorning-Schmidt for the
role of European Commission president but the 47-year-old Social
Democrat has also been touted as a possible successor to
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs EU
Asked if she could imagine Thorning-Schmidt in either job,
Merkel reiterated Germany's support for Jean-Claude Juncker as
Commission president and said leaders had not yet discussed who
should take Van Rompuy's post when his term ends in November.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is opposed to Juncker,
seen by London as an old-style federalist, but he looks
increasingly isolated and EU diplomats say the former Luxembourg
prime minister is likely to get the nod at next week's EU
"In principle, it can't be the case, in the sense of the
unity of the European Union, that only someone who is in the
euro zone can be Council President. There is no such rule,"
Merkel told a news conference in Berlin with Thorning-Schmidt.
"But as I've said, that has nothing to do with Denmark in
particular - it's just a general statement," she said.
Merkel said it was not clear whether EU leaders would decide
on a personnel package at a summit next week, adding: "Anyway
the Danish prime minister is a great prime minister and I've got
the impression that she really enjoys her work back home."
Thorning-Schmidt said she agreed with Merkel that the
content laid out in the policy agenda to be outlined by leaders
next week was more important than who would carry it out.
"I think the most important thing now is, quite seriously,
that you should focus on what we do together in the next five
years and that's more important than who will lead any of the
institutions," she said.
"VERY GOOD CANDIDATE"
Thorning-Schmidt, married to the son of former British
Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, said Juncker was "a very good
candidate" for the EU's top job, saying she knew him to be a
pragmatic politician with a lot of experience.
Merkel said Germany would make decisions in "a European
"That doesn't mean we can fulfill every single wish; it
means that we can think about what is important for Britain,"
she said, adding that she was prepared to talk "very
constructively" with Britain on issues it considered important.
EU diplomats said there was unlikely to be a package of top
appointments next week because neither the European Council
president nor the EU's foreign policy chief needed parliamentary
approval, whereas the Commission president faces a first vote in
the EU assembly in mid-July.
That made it necessary to nominate a candidate by the end of
the June 26-27 summit, and there was a growing consensus around
Juncker, with the exception of Britain and Hungary.
On the policy agenda, France and Italy said on Thursday that
the top priority should be reorienting European economic policy
to promote growth and public investment notably in digital and
French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir
and his Italian counterpart, Sandro Gozi, set out a list of
priorities after talks in Paris, saying the new European
Commission should grant maximum flexibility within existing EU
budget rules to countries undertaking growth-promoting
investments and structural economic reforms.
Desir said the EU should consider creating a European
savings plan to mobilise citizens' savings to invest in small
business and priority infrastructure projects such as extending
high-speed broadband and the transition to renewable energy.
France has widely-used tax-exempt savings accounts at public
and private banks which drain citizens' savings for investment
in public housing and transport projects.
Gozi said a shift to more growth-friendly economic policies
was a condition for Italy's support for the next Commission
president. Asked whether Rome had sought assurances from
Juncker, he said: "Not yet."
The Italian official also said Rome would demand that EU
partners share more of the burden of coping with a flood of
illegal migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
He called for the EU's Frontex border management agency to
gradually take over the Italian navy's Mare Nostrum operation to
rescue migrants adrift on overcrowded boats in the
(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Paris; Editing by
Stephen Brown and Paul Taylor)