Press conference and Q&A given by the Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron and the French President, Mr François Hollande at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, 10 July 2012.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to welcome President Hollande to Downing Street on his first presidential visit to Britain. Bienvenue, François. It’s been great to have you here today. We’ve had good discussions on many issues: our bilateral relationship; the EU and the eurozone; and some vital foreign policy challenges.
France is an essential and valued partner of Britain. Our economies are closely interwoven. French companies employ 180,000 people across the United Kingdom, and we export more to France than to China, India, Japan and Turkey combined. We’re working together to meet our future energy needs through close cooperation on nuclear power. Companies like EDF and Centrica, who are on track to develop a nuclear power station in Somerset. And our cooperation at the Channel Tunnel and seaports will help to secure a safe Olympics. And I’m delighted that François will be coming to see some of the Games for himself.
On defence, we are the two major military powers in Europe. We both remain committed to building on the very close collaboration we agreed at Lancaster House in 2010.
On the euro, Britain wants the euro area to have a strong and stable currency. We agree the steps forward that were made in Brussels last month need to be implemented rapidly. We agree that the eurozone countries need to establish without delay a banking union with the ECB as a common supervisor for the eurozone. And on EU spending, stretching out to 2020, we agree that the commission proposal to spend €14 billion more each year than what we do today is unacceptable, and France and Britain will oppose that. What we need to do is not spend more, but spend better.
There will always be areas where we don’t agree but we found much common ground today. Not just about European policy today but also how we develop European policy for Britain and for France in the future.
We’ve also discussed Syria where Britain and France are shaping efforts to end the violence to create a political transition and to give Syria a fresh start without President Assad. We also discussed in some detail the situation in the countries of the Sahel in Northern Africa. We’re determined to prevent al?Qaeda establishing a safe haven there to plot and threaten people both in the region and here at home, and we’ve agreed efforts to step up our work in the area.
It’s been a packed agenda. We want to do more together in the coming months, from migration to counterterrorism, from growth to green energy. And we’ll review progress at the next Anglo-French summit to take place in the United Kingdom in the first part of 2013. François, over to you.
I’d like to thank David Cameron for his invitation today to the United Kingdom. I wanted to come. I could have waited for the Olympic Games but I wanted to have some sort of an initiation round before. But I will be back on 30th July to attend the Games. It’s been a pleasure to be here and also to have an opportunity to meet Her Majesty the Queen in a few moments.
With David Cameron, our relationship has been based on a common intent to put both our countries on the path to growth and recovery. We have many contacts which can help in this respect. First of all, industrial cooperation. We discussed together what we could be doing in the energy sector in particular. When I say what we could be doing, I mean what our businesses could be doing together. And here, in particular regarding the civil nuclear energy or renewable energies, both the British and French businesses have an outstanding expertise.
We also committed to cooperating on defence matters. We are in Europe the two great countries which have a defence potential as well as a nuclear strategic force. It means that we have to act in solidarity and to be responsible. So we will keep sharing information, our technology as well, to increase our defence effort without spending more. As to the tools that we can use in the future, we want to work in common on drones and the French defence ministry will be in London on 24th July. On this occasion, two arrangements will be signed regarding drones. And I would like the British to be involved as well in the preparation of our own white book on defence and therefore the preparation of our defence budget, and I would like David Cameron to appoint a high level representative so that he can be involved in our discussion.
There are also some prospects in relation to space cooperation, where again we can work on leading-edge technology. I also met with the French community at the residence of the French ambassador, and I discussed and mentioned the fact that we are partners. We have contacts. Our businesses invest: the French businesses invest in Britain and the British companies invest in France. And I would like us to go even further. This is a relationship which is in the interests of our two countries.
Of course, we also talked about Europe. We may have sometimes different views but we attended the European Council together and we really saw eye-to-eye on the growth compact and what needed to be done for the better use of the structural funds, put in place the project bonds, and regarding the EIB as well. We are well aware that improving our public accounts, which must be done, should come together with a growth policy if we want to meet our commitments.
We also discussed the financial instability in the eurozone. Of course, Britain is not a member of the eurozone. That being said, it is fully concerned and I would like to thank the British Prime Minister because we, the eurozone, need to do a number of things in order to mobilise our instruments, our tools. Decisions were taken by the eurozone after the European Council to that effect.
And as to the European perspective, we’re in different positions. Great Britain has no intention to join the eurozone, France would like integration and solidarity within the eurozone. At the same time, we fully understand each other’s positions. Britain does not wish to slow down or prevent the eurozone countries from acting and France, within the eurozone, does not want to oblige anyone to join. We should see Europe as having different speeds, and each can act at its own speed, while respecting the other countries. This is the way to build a relationship of trust, a strong relationship.
So this is the meaning of my visit, and I would like to conclude by saying that Britain and France also have converging views on three main international topics. Syria (which David Cameron mentioned): we’re putting pressure on the Syrian regime, so then there is the beginning of a political transition. We are in favour of strengthening the sanctions; we are trying to convince the Russians and the Chinese that there would be nothing worse than chaos, including for their own interests.
We work in very good intelligence – France and Great Britain – on Iran, in order to prevent nuclear proliferation. And in this respect, this morning we had a very fruitful discussion on the Sahel and fighting terrorism. So this is the reason why I wanted to come to London, to say that the relationship between France and Great Britain is fundamental, not just for Europe but for the world.
Firstly to the Prime Minster, there’s a key vote tonight on the House of Lords reform. Is it better to put both motions through and be defeated, or to retreat and withdraw the programme motion? And secondly to President Hollande, the red carpet’s been rolled out for you today; have you forgiven the Prime Minister for his comments about rolling out the red carpet to French firms escaping high taxes?
Well first of all on the House of Lords. I think it is time we reformed the House of Lords. It’s got up to 900 people; there are still people there who are there because their ancestors were given a peerage decades ago. It is ripe for reform, it does need to take place, and the prediction I would make is there will be a very big majority for the government’s bill to reform the House of Lords. I think that is absolutely vital, that will be a big step forward.
But what I’ve always said about Lords reform is that, in order for it to happen, all of those that support reforming the House of Lords need to act together, work together, and vote together.
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But the first prediction is that we’ll get a significant majority for the government legislation, and that will be an important step forward.
I won’t have anything to say regarding the House of Lords. The nature of our countries is we have to modernise our institutions but they are traditions and I will respect them.
Now, regarding that forgiveness I’m supposed to grant. I mean, I didn’t feel that I was offended by what was a joke. I like humour, particularly British humour, so I was very glad that there was a question of a beautiful carpet in the months to come, in the years to come. Also, I don’t believe that it’s going to have any impact on the movement of capitals or our relations. And I said that before: they are formulae or expressions that you use and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything very much.
It’s a question for you both. You talked about the red carpet, but Mr Cameron you didn’t feel it was important to meet Mr Hollande when he came in February. So regarding these two points, don’t you have any regrets? And Mr Hollande, are you here without any second thoughts?
I’m grateful that we will build a good and strong relationship. I think we’re both practical, reasonable, rational politicians who want the best for our countries, and recognise there are deep links and ties between our countries and very common interests. We both want European growth. We both want to stand tall in the world when it comes to issues like Syria, or Libya, or Iran. We both want to see cooperation between our governments and people.
So I’m very happy that we’re going to build a strong a relationship. As for red carpets, there was one today for François only, but obviously I want Britain to be the most competitive country in the world for people to grow a business, to start a business, to employ people. That’s why we’ve cut business taxes, we’ve cut personal taxes, we’ve taken people out of taxes. I see it as my job to roll up my sleeves and every day ask, ‘What more could I do to make Britain the best place, not just in Europe, but in the world to do business?’ And that’s what this government is partly about.
I will add a few words. I believe that Britain needs a dynamic France, a prosperous France, and the opposite is true also. We have a Europe that needs to improve its performance; it’s important that in Europe the economy should grow. The competitivity should improve. We each do that according to our means, resources, sensibility.
The tax dimension, whatever people may say, is not the main difference between us. When I look at the maximum tax rate in Britain, it’s 45%. In France, it’s 41% to date. That does not entice British people to move to France, except for holiday homes where in any case we don’t want to tax them further . But I think we have tax policies, economic policies that make it possible for us to be very much faithful to what we said in policies and political discourse in the campaigns, and also which are positive for our performance.
We need working economies. That’s what is going to make it possible to create more employment, more jobs with each of us using the means that seem relevant to us. But in Britain, in France, we have a strong desire of reducing the deficit and we’re going to do that, following our own strategy but with the same objectives.
I’m the same as François, in that I have a press officer who’s half French, I’ve a chief of staff who has a French wife, and an ambassador in France who has a house in Normandy, and he’ll be particularly relieved by that last answer so that’s someone made very happy.
Prime Minister, it does look like you’re going to lose the timetable vote on Lords reform. If the Liberal Democrats then say they’re going to vote against the boundary changes, is that the end of the coalition? Feel free to be as blunt as you like.
And Mr President, could I ask you, you must have followed the banking scandal here involving Barclays. Do you think that our banking regulation is fit for purpose?
And since this is the last question from the British side and I have a lot of colleagues in here who want to have this asked, have you talked about the possibility of renegotiating powers and does the President think that your party’s aspirations on this subject – the question of renegotiating powers back from the EU – is realistic?
That’s lots of questions in there. Let me take the last one first. We had a very good conversation about the future development of the European Union. A good understanding that Europe is changing very fast, the eurozone is going to have to integrate more. In my view, the changes that are taking place will mean that there are opportunities for different European countries to have different sorts of European relationships. Whether you want to call it different speeds or different types of membership, I think that will be possible in the future and we discussed those sorts of ideas in the meeting that we’ve just had.
I think Britain is better off inside the European Union, I made that very clear. We need the single market. We need not only access to that market but also the ability to help set the rules of that market. But I don’t think Britain is happy with its current relationship with the European Union. I do think we need to make changes. I’m committed, over time, to making those changes and, as I said before, then putting that to the people to get their full-hearted consent. So that was a good discussion that we had. We’re not going to agree about every detail. France is in the eurozone, will have a different sort of European future to Britain, but we had a very good, straightforward and strong conversation about that.
On the coalition, this government’s main mission is a rescue mission for the British economy; is to pay down our deficit; is to deal with our economic problems and get our economy moving; is to get people back to work. It’s also got a very strong sense of mission about social mobility – that’s why we’ve broken open the state monopoly of education; a very strong sense of mission in terms of reforming welfare. I think it has been, and will continue to be, a very radical government but it also has commitments in terms of constitutional reform and I believe in taking all of those commitments forward, and that is what we plan to do.
As I say, you know, what has eluded this country for very many years is a reform of the House of Lords that can get a large majority behind it in the House of Commons. I think that’s what we’re going to see today: a set of proposals that’s come forward that is going to get a large majority in the House of Commons.
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I’m committed to taking forward this agenda. I think it’s important.
I think that was all the questions for me. Mr President?
Regarding banking regulation, it’s an objective that we could certainly share. There have been indeed a few revelations in Britain which means that we have to be wary in our respective countries, and repressive even in some cases, when faced with some behaviours from the banks.
But we have a different position in Britain and in France. In France, we are within the eurozone and the eurozone has decided to organise a banking supervision with the European Central Bank, which is really the central bank for that eurozone, that bank being responsible for the supervision. David Cameron at that European Council – and thank you to him – said that he shared the objectives regarding banking regulations but since Britain was outside of the eurozone they had to organise things in a different way.
So, as far as France is concerned, we’re very much in favour of banking union, which has to be an extra step towards monetary and economic European union, and which will allow that regulation, that banking supervision, and will allow us to recapitalise various institutions and banks that may need it. I’m thinking of Spanish banks in particular.
And it’s an illustration of what we were talking about. We have different positions because we’re not in the same positions, in the same situation. France is within the eurozone and therefore France would like the regulation within the eurozone to be reinforced in the banking sector.
I will give you another example. Even within the eurozone, some countries have decided that they would implement a tax on financial transactions. It’s not something that’s going to come into all the countries within the eurozone and the countries that are outside the eurozone, but that’s what I would call the reinforced type of cooperation and I think it’s very good that there should be that possibility in Europe for us to be able to organise ourselves according to our own philosophy and approach so that no country feels left on the margins or criticised.
Can I just take this opportunity. It’s the first time I’ve been able to comment on the very sad death of Police Constable Ian Dibell who was killed yesterday in Essex. He was off duty but went to help people in a totally selfless and typical way that our police officers do all of the time. It’s a reminder of the immense debt that we owe them, and what they do on our behalf, and I just want to pay tribute to him and say that the whole country, I’m sure, is thinking of his family and friends at this difficult time. But a reminder of what the police do on our behalf every day of the year.