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This is the next target in UK's reform fight with EU

By Bjarke Smith-Meyer, special to

The battle over who should be the next European Commission President is already well under way – with the UK's Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron leading a fight to stop Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker from taking the top job at the European Union.

But the fight for who should lead another branch of the Brussels power structure -- the European Parliament -- is about to begin. And Cameron is leading the charge there as well.

Facing an anti-European backlash at the polls, the U.K. prime minister is battling to reform the power structure of 28-country EU, which he sees as spendthrift, undemocratic and meddlesome. If he doesn't get his way, he has pledged a referendum on his country's membership by 2017.

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And it looks as though the battle over who leads the EU will come to a head at next week's summit in Ypres, Belgium.

Taking up the challenge to become President of the European Parliament, which has a massive say on EU policy and spending, is Sajjad Karim, a British Conservative with 10 years' experience as a European lawmaker.

Karim's hat is the first to be thrown in the ring and he does it with the backing of what could soon be the third largest political group in the EU Parliament. The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), is a coalition of right-wing parties was formed by Cameron in 2009. Its ranks have recently been swelled in the latest round of parliamentary elections.

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"It's a shrewd move," Pawel Swidicki, research analyst at Open Europe, told CNBC. "Karim stood for the same position a couple of years ago, and managed to get a lot of support beyond the ECR Group."

Sajjad Karim will hope to gain more votes from his fellow EU peers within the parliament to gain the necessary majority to win the seat. The EU Parliament's president all legal and international matters associated with the institution. The EU budget, for example, needs the president's signature before it can be adopted.

However, Karim faces a fierce fight. For while his overall opposition may have yet to find their leading men, the parliament's two leading political groups – the center-right European People's Party (EPP) and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – have together managed to wall out previous challengers, by strategically voting for each other to effectively control the presidential seat.

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Nonetheless, Karim is still in fighting spirit.

"Our electorates were quite clear in the European elections," he told CNBC. "There's a need for new names, new faces and new ideas within Europe. And that's why I've put myself forward with the view of persuading colleagues, that that is what they need to be doing."

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"Where is the evidence that the people of Europe want to move in a federalist direction? It's simply not there. If anything it's to the contrary."

However Karim's push for reform is in danger of failing if Cameron's campaign against EU federalist Juncker upsets too many in Brussels.

"Cameron isn't getting his tactics right," Laurens Cerulus, a reporter at Euractiv, told CNBC. "And if he keeps pushing too hard, his hopes of European reform might end up getting voted out altogether."

It is also a scenario that Karim is aware of.

"He's got to get the balance right," Karim said. "But ultimately, as a country, as a Prime Minister, he will have to accept the majority will within the Council."

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That majority will, however, could be exactly the opposite of what Karim and Cameron want.

"The EPP and the S&D groups will start to work even closer together given the record number of anti-EU and populist parities elected as a whole," said Swidlicki.

The ECR has also come under criticism for the populist and hard-right views of some of its latest recruits such as the Danish People's Party and The True Finns -- parties that Gareth Thomas, the UK shadow Europe minister for Labour, pointed out were "considered too extreme to ally in 2009".

In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted angrily to Cameron's failed attempt to keep anti-euro, and EU-skeptic party, Alternative fuer Deutschland out of his own reformist group.

Regardless, Karim remains confident that he can hold the line.

"Trying to get a balanced consent of all these differing opinion takes a certain style and a certain skill from a certain individual," he said. "I've got that proven track record. I've done it over 10 years. I've proved I can do it."

But Cameron's focus on Juncker might end up leaving Karim helpless against EPP and S&D.

"It would be very good for Cameron to have someone from his own party in that post," Swidicki said. "But I think it's unlikely that Sajjad would be able to win a sufficient majority … precisely for that reason."

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