VIENNA The European Union's chief executive has given Greeks a stark and unusual warning of major problems if they vote the "wrong" way and radicals win an early parliamentary election.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, stressed in remarks carried late on Thursday by Austrian broadcaster ORF that he was not trying to insert himself into the Greek political process.
In general, EU officials take pains to avoid accusations of interference and Juncker's remarks went beyond the normal reticence.
As the government in Athens faces a possible election and defeat by an untried left-wing party that opposes the terms the EU has set on Greece's financial bailout, Juncker said he was not averse to seeing "familiar faces" remaining in charge.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Thursday that Greece risked a "catastrophic" return to financial crisis if his government fell as a result of a parliamentary vote he has called for this month to elect a head of state.
Juncker, who was closely involved in managing the euro zone debt crisis when he was prime minister of Luxembourg, said he was sure Greek voters understood the risks of an election that polls show could bring to power the left-wing Syriza party.
"I assume that the Greeks -- who don't have an easy life, above all the many poor people -- know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the euro zone," he said.
"I won't express my own opinion. I just wouldn't like extremist forces to take the wheel.
"I would like Greece to be governed by people with an eye on and a heart for the many little people in Greece -- and there are many -- and also understand the necessity of European processes."
He said he did not view market ructions in Greece of late as a sign that a new Greek crisis was breaking out.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Writing by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)