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Merkel plays down hope of quick deal on next Commission president

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a joint news briefing with French President Francois Hollande (not pictured) at the city hall in Str
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a joint news briefing with French President Francois Hollande (not pictured) at the city hall in Str

STRALSUND, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried on Saturday to douse hopes of a quick agreement on the next European Commission president after the May 22-25 European parliament elections, warning this could take several weeks.

Speaking to reporters in the Baltic port city of Stralsund, Merkel said leaders of European Union governments will meet in Brussels on May 27 but that gathering would be to discuss the EU's policy direction and not just candidates.

"It will certainly take a period of several weeks before one can come to the necessary decisions," Merkel said.

She added that EU government leaders would do all they could to respect the will of the voters, but there was a long list of difficult issues.

There are also grand coalition governments in several EU member countries that would require them to first come to their own internal agreements on EU posts, Merkel said.

In a vast election spread over four days and 28 countries, as many as 350 million people will be eligible to vote for members of the European Parliament, the bloc's only directly elected body.

The new Commission president - replacing Jose Manuel Barroso - will assume office for five years from November, taking charge of an institution responsible for proposing EU laws and policing existing rules. The Commission also takes the lead in trade negotiations and coordinates foreign policy.

Nominees for Commission president come from four main party groups - the center-right EPP, the center-left Socialists & Democrats, the Liberal ALDE and the Greens, who have faced off in a handful of debates.

The center-right have chosen Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg. The center-left, marginally ahead in most polls, are backing Germany's Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament.

Complicating matters, there is no automatic guarantee that any of the candidates hoping to become Commission president will get the job, which would give them influence over EU legislation and the direction of Europe. Ultimately, it is the EU's 28 heads of government who must agree on a name. The European Parliament will then have to approve their choice by a majority.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, writing by Erik Kirschbaum, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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