German Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked France whether it would be willing to put forward International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde as president of the European Commission, two French sources briefed on the exchanges said.
They said Merkel, Europe's most powerful political leader, made the inquiry in a private conversation with French President Francois Hollande after European Parliament elections characterized by widespread anti-EU protest votes.
"Merkel raised it privately with Hollande, who did not take a final position but said he did not think it would be a good idea for Europe to lose the IMF post," one source said.
In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the Reuters report was wrong. Merkel had reaffirmed on Monday her support for former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who led the center-right European People's Party slate in the parliamentary elections, he said. The center-right topped the poll but fell well short of an overall majority.
Emerging nations have said they want to break a long-standing arrangement under which a European gets the top IMF job and an American heads the World Bank.
Another French source said there was no way the Socialist president, under pressure from the far-right National Front, which won the election in France, and the left wing of his own party, could back a member of the center-right opposition for the top European Union job.
Lagarde, 58, was finance minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy before moving to the IMF at the height of the euro zone's debt crisis in 2011 to replace disgraced French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Her term runs until 2016.
A fluent English-speaker who headed a major U.S. law firm before holding ministerial office in France, she is highly regarded by Merkel and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble as a steady-handed compromise builder.
The spokesman referred to Merkel's public statements noting that a qualified majority of member states was necessary and saying she wanted to negotiate in a "European spirit" of seeking the broadest possible consensus.
The chancellor has acknowledged that Juncker may not have sufficient backing among EU leaders to secure their nomination, and that other candidates could also do the job provided the result of the elections was respected. To critics, Juncker represents a political class that has alienated many of Europe's voters and played into the hands of Eurosceptic parties.
In Washington, IMF spokeswoman Conny Lotze said: "As Madame Lagarde has said repeatedly, she is focused on her work at the IMF and intends to complete her term as Managing Director."