New EU chief vows to address reform demands to keep Britain in the bloc

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - 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 week to be the new head of the EU Council, representing the bloc's 28 governments, in hopes that the centre-right Polish leader would help him push through reforms to the EU, which he sees as too centralised 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 euro zone 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 labour 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 UK to reform the EU," a British government spokesman said.

In the face of eurosceptic sentiment within his own party and the wider electorate, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's ties with the EU if he is re-elected next year, and then put the country's continued membership of the EU to a referendum in 2017.

Cameron clashed with the European Commission last year after unveiling plans to limit EU migrants' access to welfare in Britain and said he wanted eventually to restrict migrants from poorer EU states relocating to richer ones.

The Commission told Britain last November that EU freedom of movement rules were non-negotiable and that London had to accept them if it wanted to remain in the bloc's single market.

But Tusk was much more emollient, suggesting that Cameron may have found the ally he is looking for to help him drive through reforms of the EU that would enable him to sell continued EU membership to eurosceptic British voters.

Cameron phoned Tusk on Tuesday to discuss his suitability for the EU job and gave him his backing after receiving assurances he was sympathetic to his plans to reform the EU.

In July, Cameron set out new welfare rules to cut access to social security payments for migrants from the EU.

British opinion polls show immigration is one of voters' biggest concerns, fuelling a rise in eurosceptic sentiment that has helped the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) draw voters away from Cameron's Conservatives.

Cameron caused outrage in Poland in January with remarks about Polish migrants pocketing British welfare payments.

Tusk said at the time he would ask Cameron to explain his comments.

Tusk said then that Poland would veto any changes to EU rules aimed at reducing welfare payments for any particular nationality rather than applying equally to citizens of all EU member states.