Conservatives pick ex-Luxembourg PM as candidate for European Commission president

DUBLIN (AFP) - European conservatives on Friday picked former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as their candidate to be the next European Commission president - igniting the centre right grouping's campaign for European elections in May.

Mr Juncker comfortably defeated Michel Barnier, a French European Union commissioner, at a congress of the European People's Party (EPP) in Dublin by 382 votes to 245.

For the first time this year, member states will have to take into account the result of the European elections on May 25 when they pick a president to lead the executive of the European Union.

Mr Juncker, 59, served as Luxembourg premier for 19 years, making him Europe's longest-serving leader until he was defeated in a general election last year.

He led the euro zone group of finance ministers through the worst of the bloc's crisis and is a staunch supporter of a federal European state.

The EPP is the largest political grouping in Europe with 74 parties from 39 countries and is the largest group in the European Parliament with 273 members.

It currently leads the European Commission with Mr Jose Manuel Barroso and the European Council with Mr Herman Van Rompuy.

The Socialist group in the European Parliament chose Mr Martin Schulz from Germany as its candidate last Saturday.