EU's Tusk says ready to serve second term as chair

VALLETTA (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk told EU leaders on Friday he was ready to serve a second term as their chairman after his current mandate expires at the end of May.

European Council President Donald Tusk addresses the media on the eve of a European Union leaders summit in Valletta, Malta February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Chairing the leaders’ meetings is one of the European Union’s most influential jobs and, if re-appointed, Tusk will have a key role in Brexit talks once Britain triggers a divorce clause to become the first country to ever leave the bloc.

“After talking to many leaders who expressed their support, I informed that I am ready to continue my work. But that will depend on the decision of all heads of state and government,” Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, told reporters after a summit of all 28 EU leaders in Malta.

EU leaders can decide on the next chair either by unanimity or in a majority vote, which overrides any national veto.

Malta, which holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, will hold consultations on whether to extend Tusk’s mandate, he said, and it could be decided as early as March.

So far, the only country openly opposing granting the centrist Tusk a second, 30-month term is his native Poland, now governed by the nationalist-minded party of his arch-rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Tusk, 59, has pro-European views and a good relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU’s most powerful leader.

EU officials say discussing an alternative candidate to Tusk would only add to the many feuds inside the bloc as it wrestles with a range of challenges from a more assertive Russia to militant Islam.

The head of a leftist faction in the European Parliament, however, has said his lawmakers could try to oust Tusk and install instead a centre-left politician.

Back in Poland, Kaczynski has said Tusk is a “problem” and that he would not have Warsaw’s backing.

There is deep personal animosity between the two men, who both trace the start of their political careers to Poland’s pro-democracy struggle that culminated in the overthrow of communist rule in 1989.

Tusk served as Polish prime minister from 2007 to 2014. His centrist Civic Platform was defeated by Kaczynski’s eurosceptic, socially conservative Law and Justice party in October 2015.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Gareth Jones