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Published: Wednesday August 27, 2014 MYT 6:10:03 AM
Updated: Wednesday August 27, 2014 MYT 9:01:27 AM

UK ready to back Poland's Tusk as next European Council president

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron is ready to back his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk as the next president of the European Council after receiving assurances he is sympathetic to the British leader's plans to reform the European Union.

Tusk, a centre-right politician, hasn't formally declared he wants the top EU job. He declined to throw his name in the ring at an EU summit in July despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging him to become a candidate for one of the bloc's top posts.

But Cameron, on his summer holiday, phoned Tusk on Tuesday ahead of a meeting of EU leaders on Saturday to discuss the Polish politician's suitability for the job of EU Council president, a post that involves chairing EU summits. The job is currently filled by Belgian Herman Van Rompuy.

Up for re-election next year, Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the 28-nation bloc if he wins power again before giving Britons an in/out EU membership referendum by the end of 2017.

After failing to stop Jean-Claude Juncker, a politician Cameron considers too federalist, from becoming the next president of the European Commission, the British leader is anxious to secure a reform-friendly ally in Brussels.

"Prime Minister Tusk was clear that he thinks there are a number of reforms that need to be made in the European Union, and that's an agenda where he wants to work with the UK and other countries," a spokeswoman for Cameron told reporters after the two men spoke on the phone.

"There are a number of suitable individuals for both the Council President and the High Representative (foreign policy) role from both the left and right wings of politics," she added, saying the British government was ready to support unspecified candidates who were ready to work with London to reform the EU in the "next few years."

Britain, officially home to over 500,000 Poles, is keen to clamp down on what it regards as abuse of its welfare system by EU migrants as part of its drive to overhaul the bloc.

Cameron's spokeswoman said Tusk understood it was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, a Polish government spokeswoman, told Reuters that Tusk remained focused on his current job.

"The prime minister has said many times that for him, the priority is Polish affairs," she said.

"Obviously, the comments by Mr. Cameron are very flattering for us," she added.

The choice of Tusk, if he were available, or one of two former Baltic prime ministers in contention, could overcome east European opposition to Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini getting the job of EU foreign policy chief, especially since Italy went along with tougher EU sanctions on Russia this month.

Mogherini has consolidated her position as front-runner for the foreign policy job in recent months, according to two diplomatic sources familiar with the matter.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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