Official visit to the United Kingdom
THE PRIME MINISTER – Prime Minister, I’d like first of all to thank you for the meeting we’ve just had and the warm welcome you’ve given me.
It’s my first visit to the UK as Prime Minister; I want to tell the French press it’s not an entirely historic event, because I’ve come to the UK before, accompanying Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, in 2003 and 2004 I think; Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin came to the UK in 2005, I believe.
I told David Cameron just now that I think we must have more frequent meetings between our two governments. We must do so all the more because the quality of Franco-British relations has reached a level rarely equalled, particularly thanks to the Franco-British summit in London and the historic agreements reached on defence, which I’ve repeatedly said could take place only between two sister nations – i.e. nations whose level of trust is such that they can pool things as fundamental as their security.
I’ve already had the opportunity to meet David Cameron, in Paris in 2008 when he was leader of the opposition. And I was already able to appreciate then the sense of responsibility that motivated him.
I’ve seen his qualities again on meeting him today, and to them I would add courage and leadership ability. And that’s the first thing I told David Cameron just now: that the French government very much admires the economic and financial policy being conducted in the UK and the courage with which the British government has undertaken this budgetary recovery effort. I’m certain it will bear fruit, for the UK of course but also for the European Union as a whole. And I want to say, from this standpoint, that it’s comforting for the head of the French government to be able to compare the policies being conducted on finance, the budget and the economy and to see that, in the end, they’re very similar on both sides of the Channel.
Let me add that both of us, the French and the British, are very sensitive about our independence; we’re very sensitive about our national sovereignty. Well, our national sovereignty involves, first of all, a reduction in our deficits and a return to balance in our public finances.
EURO AREA/ECONOMIC HARMONIZATION/EU BUDGET/EUROPEAN PATENT FUND/VENTURE CAPITAL FUND FOR INNOVATIVE SMEs
We then discussed the euro. I want to repeat that the euro doesn’t need to be saved. The euro needs to be defended. And in order to defend the euro, we need to strengthen our cooperation within the Euro Area. The Euro Area governments need to establish economic management of that area.
We need to gradually harmonize our taxation, ways of working and economic organization, as part of a long-term vision. We can’t imagine, in the long term, a Euro Area where there are still such great differences in terms of working hours, retirement age, economic organization and taxation. So if we want the Euro Area to be strengthened, it’s essential that we harmonize the legislation in these fields. And what I told David Cameron is that we hope the UK will watch, look at, support those efforts enthusiastically, because it’s in the UK’s interests to have a strong Euro Area.
Of course I haven’t come to ask David Cameron for either help or any change in UK policy on the euro, but rather for a positive view of this effort of harmonization and cohesion that we’re going to make.
We discussed the European budget and found that we were in full agreement on the necessity of not increasing it, and on the need to reorient some of the EU’s spending towards more effective action to support growth.
In particular, I mentioned three ideas that France wants to put forward in the course of 2011: a European patent fund, the creation of a venture capital fund for innovative SMEs and an obligation on the Commission and the EU to conduct impact studies before every decision, to see what effects European decisions, the rules decided on by Europe, have on our companies.
Finally, we discussed our bilateral cooperation and specifically the possibility of bringing our industrial sectors closer together, particularly in the nuclear field, in view of the very close cooperation now existing between France and the UK on these matters.
We also spoke about the fight against terrorism, and I’d like to thank David Cameron for the message of solidarity he sent to President Sarkozy, and which he’s just repeated following the tragic incidents that occurred in Niger. They show the extent to which our democracies must unite to uphold their values together, because in these tragic events it’s not the French government that’s attacked, it’s the values of democracy, and those are the values we share.
Q. – (on Franco-British cooperation on the fight against terrorism and tensions in North Africa)
THE PRIME MINISTER – Cooperation between France and the UK in the fight against terrorism is very close; it’s long-standing. It’s grown continuously stronger, and we both talked about the need to strengthen it further, particularly with regard to the Sahel region. The aim in the Sahel region is to prevent those terrorist movements, at all costs, from spreading their influence to the detriment of the existing States, to the detriment of the State structures, which are already very fragile in that region of the world. It’s very clear to us that this is a key moment, when those States all need to be encouraged, reinforced and helped in the fight against terrorism. And we hope to work with the UK very closely on that.
As for the situation in Tunisia – because that was the question you asked – I want to say we’re extremely concerned about the situation and the violence that’s been developing for a few days now. We urge all the parties to show restraint and choose the path of dialogue. You can’t carry on with this disproportionate use of violence, and the French government is making every effort to persuade the Tunisian government to embark on that route. I note with interest that measures have already been announced, particularly the release of the people arrested at the beginning of the riots. We must absolutely move forward along that path. Finally, let me add that, beyond those countries’ domestic political problems, which must be resolved by the most democratic means, there’s a problem of economic development. And those problems are linked. And that’s action we in the European Union can carry out together, to provide more effective development aid to that region of the Maghreb, with which we have historic ties that everyone’s well aware of.
HARMONIZATION OF FISCAL/ECONOMIC/SOCIAL POLICIES
Q. – (on the reactions of the British public concerning harmonization of economic, fiscal and social policies)
THE PRIME MINISTER – If your question can be summed up in the following way: can the harmonization policy I’ve always upheld work with a British wife? The answer is “no”.
Secondly, we mustn’t exaggerate the differences between our two countries. I was saying just now that there’s a lot of affectation in this focus on our differences. The truth is that, for years, we’ve been moving closer in terms of organization and even in ideological terms. I think the UK recognizes today that it’s sometimes necessary to give a boost to get industrial sectors moving, and France has made a lot of effort to open up her market. Today she’s one of the world’s most open countries – one of Europe’s most open countries, at any rate – and I demonstrated that this morning in my speech to the City.
Thirdly, as David has just said, we’re not asking the UK to enter the Euro Area. And the effort of cohesion necessary inside the Euro Area doesn’t concern the UK. What we’re asking is for the UK – how shall I put it? – not to be offended by that effort, not to regard it as dangerous to her, as a sort of difference that might be created between the Euro Area and the countries not in it.
We’ve made two different choices. At the time, that choice was much debated in my country; I was among those who opposed it. And when I opposed that choice, along with a number of French political leaders, we said exactly what’s in the process of happening today: namely, that you can have a common currency provided you have a common economic government, provided you have a harmonized economic policy, provided you have more fiscal and social convergence.
Well, we’re there today, faced with a historic obligation – to strengthen the Euro Area – so we must move towards that convergence. But we understand perfectly well that the British want to remain British. And once again, even if we didn’t understand it, we wouldn’t manage to persuade you of the contrary.
Q. – (on the success of nationalist and extremist parties)
THE PRIME MINISTER – It’s a concern for every European government; I want to say it’s a concern for all democrats in our countries, who can’t view favourably the rise in what is, ultimately, an intolerance and a sort of self-absorption which have always ended very badly in history. And so we’re mobilized to fight against the rise in this extremism, and the best way of doing this is to speak the truth, take responsibility for the policies we’re carrying out and face up to reality.
This is why, as leader of the French government, I’ve constantly defended an austerity policy, a policy of improving the organization of public finances, because it’s necessary in order to defend national sovereignty and national independence. This is why I’ve always supported a policy which defends our national identity within the whole European entity.
I was talking earlier about the necessary convergence of fiscal, social and economic policies. None of this amounts to challenging the essential cultural differences which exist between our peoples and which must enhance each other. And finally, let me add that we talked about the fight against terrorism, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which is casting a shadow over a whole area of the world. Our cooperation to fight the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and our cooperation to try and provide solutions to the conflicts lying behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism are also ways of responding to the rise in these extremist movements.
PORTUGAL/STRENGTHENING EURO AREA
Q. – (on the desire to see the UK to play a greater role in stabilizing the Euro Area)
THE PRIME MINISTER – I, in turn, would like to express my complete confidence in Mr Socrates’ government and say how irrational some of the attacks on the Euro Area countries are. As David just said a moment ago, the Euro Area isn’t the most indebted area in the world, and Portugal is carrying out today – and has been for several months – an extremely tough policy to cut public spending and reorganize her economy, which is perfectly in line with all the European partners’ expectations. Does there need to be more money today? The answer is “no”. A fund was put in place; above all there’s a whole series of steps in terms of budgetary discipline and monitoring what the States are doing, which must now be carried out.
We must move from statements and agreements in principle to actually implementing the mechanisms which will allow us to monitor what the States are doing, and if necessary get them to change course as required. If tomorrow there were to be extra needs, what I’ve said, what President Sarkozy has said several times, and what the German Chancellor has also repeated is that we’ll do everything to strengthen the euro – everything, absolutely everything necessary.
As regards the UK’s attitude, I’ve nothing to say about the cooperation provided by the UK, who, basically, has played her full role since the outset of this crisis. Moreover, I remind you that it’s the UK and France who, at the start of the financial crisis, took the necessary decisions and initiatives allowing us to prevent the crisis from becoming far worse than the one we experienced. And today David Cameron’s government has done exactly what it had to do, in order for there to be total European solidarity, whilst fully taking into account the fact that Britain isn’t in the Euro Area and so doesn’t have the same responsibilities.