Former Portuguese PM 'optimistic' as EU Council top job decision nears

FILE PHOTO: Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa

LISBON (Reuters) - Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a front-runner to become the next president of the European Council, said on Monday he was optimistic ahead of the bloc's summit this week during which a decision on the top job is expected to be made.

Costa, 62, stepped down as Portugal's Socialist premier last November over an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government's handling of several large investment projects.

He has denied wrongdoing, was never charged with a crime and is the favourite to succeed Belgium's Charles Michel as the person who chairs summits of the 27 EU national leaders at which the bloc's political agenda is set.

"I hope the European Council quickly reaches a decision and approves the names it has to approve and rejects the names it has to reject," Costa told reporters.

Last week, EU leaders ended a discussion on who should take the bloc's top jobs for the next five years without agreement, aiming instead for a decision at a summit taking place later this week on June 27-28.

Asked whether he was feeling positive as the summit neared, Costa, who governed Portugal for eight years from the end of 2015, said he was "always optimistic".

Portugal's centre-right government, which ascended to power in March after a general election, said that Costa, whose ambition for a top European position has been an open secret for years, has its "unequivocal support".

Prime Minister Luis Montenegro said Costa's nomination would meet all requirements. Costa also has the blessing of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and is one of the centre-left candidates who generates the least opposition from the far-right.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Sandra Maler)