Dutch EU commissioner backs Merkel and causes political row

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Neelie Kroes flouted an unwritten rule among commissioners by wading into the tight election campaign, with the claim that a Merkel win would liven up Germany's stuffy bureaucracy. "The election of this excellent politician would be wonderful for the whole of Europe," Ms Kroes wrote in Holland's daily Trouw newspaper.

She said that she normally would not comment on a country's internal politics, but that she was making an exception because "otherwise I would miss a big opportunity to discuss the wider participation of women in politics and business". Women have a tendency to break through this blockade through direct contacts, regardless of the formal management relationships, she wrote. "In this respect, Angela Merkel's manner could prompt a radical change in Germany."

Her comments infuriated political opponents yesterday. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Green faction in the European Parliament, called her endorsement "scandalous and unacceptable" and an "unprecedented" interference in the domestic politics of an EU member state.

Ms Kroes, a former Dutch government minister and businesswoman, is one of seven women serving on the 25-member commission and is a strong supporter of efforts to encourage women into top political and business posts.

Although she is not a Christian Democrat like Ms Merkel, Ms Kroes's Liberal party is the second-largest of the ruling centre-right coalition government in the Netherlands, led by the Christian Democrats.