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EU presidential contenders square off on TV in first debate of its kind

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By The Associated Press
Monday, April 28, 2014, 5:48 p.m.

BRUSSELS — Four would-be presidents of the European Union's executive arm clashed on Monday evening in the first debate of its kind, each making a pitch on live TV for the support of European voters.

Ska Keller of Germany from Europe's Green parties directly asked viewers: “Do you want to have more of the old politics for the European Union, or do you want fresh ideas?”

The debate, in the Dutch city of Maastricht before an auditorium of mostly students and young people, brought together four of the five candidates vying to become European Commission president in the European Parliament election beginning May 22. For the first time, the parliamentary election results are to be taken into account when the EU's 28 member states nominate a person to fill the position. That nominee must be ratified by the new parliament.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker are candidates for the commission presidency, which is held by Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal.

Schulz, a German who represents Europe's socialist parties, said he wants a “Europe of citizens,” instead of one of banks and speculators. Juncker, flagbearer for conservative EU parties, said he wants to “unite and reunite Europe.”

Debate moderator Chris Burns told viewers that a fifth candidate, Alexis Tsipras of Greece, the choice of the EU's leftist parties, had declined to participate.

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