June 28, 2018 / 3:41 PM / 20 days ago

Belgian PM scores early points vs England among EU leaders

BRUSSELS, June 28 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May, used to being isolated in Europe over Brexit, looked to be on her own again on Thursday in Brussels as England faced Belgium at the World Cup.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel arrived at a summit of 28 EU leaders bearing gifts - a Belgium shirt for May and scarves for fellow Benelux leaders, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel.

Rutte and Bettel, whose countries did not qualify for the World Cup, donned their scarves and posed beaming next to Michel.

Television footage of the start of the summit also showed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker cheering with a Belgian scarf, then giving it to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who had earlier professed his support for Belgium.

“I am here in Brussels, in Belgium, so of course I’m going to be cheering for the home team,” he said. “But of course if Belgium win England will probably get an easier ride in the next round so perhaps it’s one of those win-win scenarios.”

The shirt for May, printed with the No. 10 in reference to her official address in Downing Street, bore the name on the back of Belgian danger man, midfield No. 10 Eden Hazard, who plays his club football in London for Chelsea.

EU leaders’ regular quarterly meetings at the end of June often coincide with major soccer tournaments - the World Cup and European Championships held in even years.

During intense discussions on the future of the euro zone in 2012, some EU leaders were reportedly keeping track of the Euro 2012 semi-final between Italy and Germany.

EU leaders are likely to be in discussions on the divisive issue of migration when the match is played, but Michel’s spokesman said the soccer fans among them could sneak out of the meeting briefly to check up on a television screen in the corridor outside.

“I think they’ll want to skip a few minutes now and then, but I don’t think they will watch the entire game,” he said. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Alastair Macdonald, William Maclean)

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