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February 06, 2014 AT 9:19 AM
German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her weight behind Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday as the leading conservative candidate in May's European Parliament elections, a potential springboard to head the European Commission. It was her first public endorsement of the veteran former prime minister and ex-chairman of euro zone finance ministers and it appeared to dim the prospects of French European Commissioner Michel Barnier, the only other declared candidate. As leader of Europe's biggest economy and most powerful conservative party, Merkel wields strong influence in the center-right European People's Party (EPP). "It is no secret that I have a lot of sympathy for Jean-Claude Juncker," she said at a joint news conference with new Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who ousted Juncker after a general election last October.