MADRID – The main European Parliament candidate representing Spain’s ruling Popular Party has apologized for a recent sexist remark he made that roused much criticism and could damage his chances of topping the vote.

Miguel Arias Canete said last week that he had felt restrained during a debate with leading opposition Socialist candidate Elena Valencia because “a debate between a man and woman is very complicated, because if you abuse your intellectual superiority you look like a male chauvinist cornering a defenceless woman.”

On Wednesday, Canete told Cope radio that he had expressed himself badly, was not sexist and had not meant to offend anyone.

Pre-debate polls showed the Popular Party had a narrow lead over the Socialists in Spain ahead of Sunday’s vote for the European Parliament.