BRUSSELS – Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, fresh from being chosen as part of the European Union’s new leadership team, held out an olive branch to Britain on Saturday, saying he was prepared to compromise on British concerns to keep the country in the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron had publicly thrown his support behind Tusk this past week to be the new head of the European Council, representing the bloc’s 28 governments, in hopes that the center-right Polish leader would help him push through reforms to the EU, which he sees as too centralized and bureaucratic.
Tusk’s election follows Cameron’s failed attempt to block former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming the next leader of the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, on grounds that he was too federalist.
Tusk, who will also chair eurozone summits despite Poland, like Britain, not using the single currency, made the gesture to Britain in his first public statement after being chosen as next president of the European Council at an EU summit in Brussels.
He suggested there was room for compromise on Cameron’s concerns over the abuse of welfare system by jobless migrants across the bloc’s borderless labor market. Poles, most of them working, have become one of Britain’s biggest immigrant communities since Warsaw joined the EU 10 years ago.
“The European Union, and I personally, will certainly meet the concerns voiced by Britain,” Tusk said.
“I am talking about Britain because I am convinced that the future of the European Union will not be in shrinking the EU, and no one reasonable can imagine the EU without Britain. I, too, cannot imagine such a black scenario. I talked about it with David Cameron, and I understand many of his attempts, proposals of reform, and I think they are acceptable to reasonable politicians in Europe, also when it comes to a search for a compromise, a common position to eliminate the abuse of the system of the free movement of workers.”
The outgoing president of the European Council, Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, listed Britain’s place in the EU as one of the three major challenges Tusk will face over the next few years, alongside the stagnating economy and the Ukraine crisis.
“We welcome Tusk’s commitment to work with the U.K. to reform the EU,” a British government spokesman said.