Angela Merkel was today revealed to be supporting Belgium's Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for Europe's first president, in the clearest sign yet that he is the man to beat for the top job, the Times of London reported.

An off-message German Ambassador broke Berlin's omerta over the worst-kept secret in EU politics, in an interview with a Belgium newspaper.

Reinhard Bettzuege, the German ambassador in Brussels, told the De Morgen newspaper in Belgium: "Germany thinks the Belgian Prime Minister is a good candidate for the EU presidency. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government are behind Van Rompuy for this job," the Times of London reported.

Berlin was furious with the plain-speaking disclosure of Chancellor Merkel's views which she has not made public throughout the secretive selection process being carried out by the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, the paper reported.

A German diplomat contacted the Times of London to say that the ambassador had been misquoted. De Morgen stood by its story. "We are very firm that he said these exact words," said a spokesman for the newspaper.

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