Donald Tusk becomes first European Council president from former Eastern Bloc

Donald Tusk becomes the second full-time president of the European Council on Monday. Tusk, who was democratic Poland's longest-serving prime minister before resigning in September just short of seven years in office, will be in charge of chairing European Union's summits and brokering behind-the-scenes deals. He will be the first EU president to come from a former communist bloc state.

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TUSK'S CHALLENGES

The 18-member eurozone is struggling to emerge from a crisis, while Britain is threatening secession over the EU's immigration regulations which London deems harmful to Britain's economy. Europe also lacks unity on policy toward Russia, which has been accused of aggression toward EU neighbor Ukraine.

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TUSK'S BACKGROUND

Tusk, a 57-year-old Kashubian Slav, was born in the port city of Gdansk. He is a historian with a special interest in post-World War I leader Marshal Jozef Pilsudski. An activist in the Solidarity freedom movement, Tusk entered politics after communism was ousted in 1989. He co-founded the pro-EU Civic Platform party in 2001 and from 2007-2014 was prime minister. His EU appointment cut his second term short by one year.

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TUSK'S STRENGTHS

Tusk has a great appetite and talent for leadership, not shrinking from taking risks or from pushing ahead with unpopular reforms, which he skillfully presented as necessary or beneficial in the long run.

Tusk is a tough strategist and he can speak eloquently and convincingly on matters that stir public opinion. He ably highlighted national successes, like Poland's economic growth during the global downturn. That strategy won him re-election in 2011. He brings with him knowledge of Russian politics.

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TUSK'S WEAKNESSES

He will have to mollify his stance on Russia. Sometimes he tries to sweep problems under the carpet and harbors personal grudges. He will have to widen his Polish inner circle. He likes to hear himself talk: his 2007 policy speech was about three hours long.

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TUSK'S ENGLISH AND SPARE TIME

The day his appointment was announced Tusk said "I will polish my English," and then switched to Polish. In a video interview released Saturday on Poland's TVN24, he says in flowing, though not flawless English: "I am optimist. Maybe all what Europe needs today it's energy, optimism, engagement, faith. And this is my specialization."

In his free time, he likes to jog or play soccer.