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Schaeuble calls for direct election of EU president

AACHEN, Germany (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called for the introduction of a directly elected president in the European Union on Thursday, a move he said would help strengthen the bloc’s political union and overcome the debt crisis.

In a speech in Aachen where he accepted the Charlemagne Prize awarded for service on behalf of European unity, Schaeuble said European Union leaders should focus on how they can strengthen the EU’s institutions and make them more democratic.

“We’ve got to create a political union now. We need strong European institutions,” Schaeuble said in a speech.

“At the next European parliamentary elections the parties could enter a top candidate that in the event of an electoral victory could then be accepted by the leaders of the national governments as the Commission president,” he said.

“The political unity in Europe needs a face,” Schaeuble added.

As Europe struggles to overcome a sovereign debt crisis there have been calls from around the EU to strengthen its political union, with analysts describing the absence of such a union as a contributing factor to the financial crisis.

Schaeuble has spoken out in favour of further development of European institutions since the early 1990s. The current European Commission President is Jose Manuel Barroso.

“We’ve got to strengthen the democratic legitimisation of Europe and we’ve got to improve the efficiency of Europe and we’ve got to reform European institutions,” Schaeuble said.

The Charlemagne Prize is presented annually to recognise outstanding contributions to European unity and previous winners include Chancellor Angela Merkel (2008) as well as former U.S. President Bill Clinton (2000) and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (1999).

Reporting by Kerstin Schraff; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum Editing by Maria Golovnina