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Germany's Schaeuble defends Juncker against drinking allegations

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble vigorously defended Jean-Claude Juncker, the designated president of the European Commission, against allegations in the British media and suggestions from one prominent EU colleague about his drinking.

Candidate for the European Commission presidency Jean-Claude Juncker arrives at an European People's Party (EPP) meeting in Kortrijk June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Juncker was confirmed by EU leaders last week as their candidate for the Commission post, but only after a fierce campaign in Britain to prevent the former Luxembourg prime minister from securing the top European Union job.

One British newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying Juncker, the long-time head of the Eurogroup forum of euro zone finance ministers, drank cognac for breakfast.

“I’ve been a member of the Eurogroup since late-2009 and I have never experienced – neither in the afternoon nor the evening nor early in the morning nor after long night sessions – that anyone, let alone Jean-Claude Juncker, was drunk,” Schaeuble told the foreign correspondents association in Berlin.

“I never said Jean-Claude Juncker was abstinent. I also drink sometimes, including in Eurogroup meetings, where it can happen that I have a glass of wine with dinner. Then he drinks beer. But I’ve never experienced him drunk,” Schaeuble said.

Juncker’s successor as chairman of the Eurogroup, Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, told a Dutch television programme in January that Juncker smoked and drank heavily in meetings.

Juncker has denied having an alcohol problem.

“As far as I’m aware, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is a good chairman of the Eurogroup, has expressed his regret that that’s how he was understood,” Schaeuble said.

Juncker, 59, a veteran deal-broker at EU summits for more than two decades, is due to go before the European Parliament for a confirmation vote on July 16, where he is likely to win a majority of centre-right and centre-left lawmakers.

Schaeuble said he believe Juncker would be a “very capable” EU Commission chief.

Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Noah Barkin and Louise Ireland