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Juncker eyes socialist for top EU economy job

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(BRUSSELS) - Jockeying for the EU's top posts intensified Tuesday when Jean-Claude Juncker, the conservative nominee to helm the powerful European Commission, said a socialist might take on the prized economic portfolio.

Since the worst days of the debt crisis, the job of Economics Affairs Commissioner has become key, being empowered to keep a close eye on the finances of all 28 member states.

The job-holder -- Finland's Olli Rehn throughout the crisis -- also represents Brussels in the troika, the three overseers of bailed-out governments from the EU, the IMF and European Central Bank.

The troika became the target of bitter protests in the streets of Greece, Cyprus and Portugal for imposing austerity policies.

EU lawmakers are to vote July 15 on Juncker's nomination to lead the Commission as replacement to Jose Manuel Barroso, despite strong opposition from British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In preparation of that vote, Juncker is holding two days of hearings with the major party groups in parliament, including eurosceptics led by Britain's Tories.

Speaking to the socialist group on Tuesday, Juncker said the economy post would "probably" go to someone from the left.

The move, if confirmed, will widely be interpreted as repayment by Juncker to Socialist-led France and Italy, whose backing was crucial for his nomination as Commission head in face of Britain's opposition.

Juncker was last month designated to be the next Commission president by European Union leaders who voted 26-2.

Lead contenders for the economy job are Pierre Moscovici, the former French Finance minister who is openly lobbying for the post, and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, current head of the Eurogroup and Dutch Finance Minister.

Dijsselbloem on Tuesday said he was happy already with "two jobs" and brushed off any speculation he was eyeing a move to Brussels.

Juncker needs to muster an absolute majority of 376 votes in the 751-seat Parliament before officially winning the commission leadership.

The day after the parliament vote, EU leaders meet to decide other top jobs.

One is that of EU foreign policy chief currently held by Catherine Ashton.

Her replacement was also rumoured to be going to a centre-left politician, with Italy's new Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini often cited.

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