Reuters International

Former European Commission President Jacques Delors speaks during a news conference with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (not pictured) at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels February 7, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Former European Commission President Jacques Delors, the father of modern European integration, said in a statement to Reuters on Thursday that British membership is positive both for the United Kingdom and for the European Union.

Delors, 89, who clashed frequently with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during his decade at the head of the EU executive from 1985 to 1994, said he would respect the British voters' decision in next week's referendum on whether to remain in the EU.

"I consider the UK's participation in the European Union to be a positive element both for the British and for the Union," the French elder statesman said.

His statement was emailed through the Jacques Delors Institute to dispel what it called inaccurate rumours that he favoured a Brexit to enable the remaining EU members to move ahead with deeper integration.

(Writing by Paul Taylor)

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