No EU-German rift with 'my friend Angela', says Juncker

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 04, 2015 2:12 PM

By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker poked fun at talk of friction between himself and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he held his second meeting this week with Europe's most powerful government leader.

"My friend Angela", as she was described by the European Commission president at a Brussels news conference on Wednesday, also went out of her way to talk of "friendship" and praise the EU executive's work since Juncker took over five months ago.

Telling reporters he was having "a real Merkel week" after spending Monday in Berlin, Juncker took aim at reports of a feud: "I'm amazed," he said, "by the persistence with which some German media go on imagining some long-lasting and fierce conflict between the chancellor and the Commission president.

"I haven't noticed one, by the way."

Differences between Berlin and the Commission over the new Greek debt crisis have fueled speculation of tension between the two -- though Juncker owed his appointment partly to support from Merkel, a fellow conservative, and has a German chief-of-staff who EU officials say wields great personal influence.

Juncker is a veteran of previous euro zone crises in his former role as the long-time prime minister of Luxembourg. But EU officials and diplomats have said his efforts last month to mediate between Greece's new leftist government and the bloc's hawkish German paymaster have not gone down well in Berlin.

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On Wednesday, Merkel and Juncker spoke as one -- in German -- on issues from promoting free trade with the United States and holding Russia to a peace deal in Ukraine to defending France's failure to heed EU rules on its budget deficit and saying it was too soon to talk about a new bailout for Greece.

She and Juncker were in such regular and harmonious contact, Merkel said, that the constant questioning of their relationship was pointless -- like "bringing iceboxes to Eskimos".

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)