Calm economic rhetoric, Nick Clegg tells French PM

 
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg French Prime Minister Francois Fillon called Nick Clegg from Rio de Janeiro on Friday

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has told the French prime minister that steps should be taken to "calm the rhetoric" on the UK economy.

Mr Clegg told Francois Fillon that remarks from members of the French government "were simply unacceptable".

French finance minister Francois Baroin earlier described the UK's economic situation as "very worrying."

Number 10 said Mr Clegg was "absolutely right", and remarks from the French were "not helpful in any way."

Meanwhile, UK officials are to join continuing eurozone talks despite Prime Minister David Cameron's veto of an EU-wide treaty change involving all states.

Mr Baroin's comments came after the chairman of the French central bank, Christian Noyer, suggested on Thursday that Britain was a candidate for a downgrade ahead of France, amid fears in Paris that France might lose its triple-A rating.

The French prime minister, Mr Fillon, raised similar concerns during a visit to Brazil.

"When I look at our British friends, who are even more indebted than us and carrying a bigger deficit, what I see is that the ratings agencies so far don't seem to have noticed," he said on Thursday.

'Rather be French'

On Friday Mr Baroin heightened tensions when he told Europe 1 radio: "The economic situation in Britain today is very worrying, and you'd rather be French than British in economic terms."

Analysis

Is there a coordinated effort by the French government to talk down the British economy and divert attention from France's own problems?

You might think so, judging from the remarks from the prime minister, the finance minister and the governor of the Bank of France - all saying the ratings agencies should look closer to their Anglo-Saxon home if they're thinking of a downgrade.

If it all feels a bit like snitching at school - 'look what Britain's doing, sir!!!' - then maybe that's because tensions in Paris are running high, and the fear of impending punishment is tangible.

Standard and Poor's has put France on alert for a two-notch downgrade, and there's a horrible feeling it's going to hit any moment.

This is terrible news for Nicolas Sarkozy, because just a few weeks ago he was saying that losing the triple-A was unthinkable.

So it's not so much a co-ordinated effort to do down the Brits, or to get the ratings people to pick on someone else. It's more a collective, inarticulate yelp of frustration.

A UK government spokesman said Mr Fillon called Mr Clegg from Rio de Janeiro to clarify his comments.

"Fillon made clear it had not been his intention to call into question the UK's rating but to highlight that ratings agencies appeared more focused on economic governance than deficit levels," the spokesman said.

"The deputy prime minister accepted his explanation but made the point that recent remarks from members of the French government about the UK economy were simply unacceptable and that steps should be taken to calm the rhetoric.

"PM Fillon agreed and they both undertook to speak again shortly to discuss economic co-operation."

Mr Fillon's office said he "took the initiative" to call Mr Clegg to "clear up misunderstandings" over his remarks about the British economy.

Downing Street said French prime minister spoke for 10 to 15 minutes in French to Mr Clegg.

It was stressed that the two men have a good working relationship and are in regular contact. The reason Mr Fillon contacted the deputy prime minister is that Mr Clegg is his equivalent in the British government.

The comments from senior French figures followed a recent warning from US credit ratings agency Standard and Poor's that France could lose its triple-A credit rating over the eurozone crisis.

Another agency, Fitch, confirmed France's triple-A rating on Friday evening, but revised its long-term outlook to "negative" from "stable".

BBC Europe correspondent Matthew Price says there has been an astonishing series of attacks coming out of Paris.

He says French officials are smarting from the expected imminent loss of their cherished AAA rating.

'Train crash'

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP and chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said the remarks by senior French figures were "a reflection of the great nervousness around".

Economic comparisons

  • Growth forecast 2011: UK 0.8%, France 1.5%
  • Government debt compared to annual economic output: UK 84%, France 85%
  • Government borrowing costs: UK 2.11%, France 2.99%

Sources: Capital Economics/OBR/Bloomberg

"We have been watching the slow-motion train crash about to happen for some time," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

"The plain fact is we have all got an interest in seeing an orderly resolution in all this.

"Trying to distract attention to other countries' problems is not going to help anyone."

Liberal Democrat Sharon Bowles, chairwoman of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, said countries should avoid criticising each other.

"We ought to try and be more positive and swim together rather than sink separately," she said.

Meanwhile Downing Street has said Britain will be "fully engaged" in the talks to decide what should be in a new eurozone fiscal pact, despite deciding to stay out of it.

Labour said the PM, who vetoed the treaty change arguing there were not sufficient safeguards for the UK, was "being forced to backtrack on his damaging decision to flounce out of the room".

 

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Comments

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  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 22.

    A few French politicians doing their job in trying to avoid a downgrade is not 'the French'. I am a Brit living in France and 'the French' are friendly and fun and just like 'the English' don't always agree with their politicians.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    They cannot forget Trafalgar.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 20.

    The French are blind it is because they are in the Euro, are going to have to fork out for the Euro (cos Germany tells them so) That there Credit rating is at risk as well as Germanys and all the others. The UK is not in the Euro has vetoe'd the treaty That our credit rating is not currently at risk, France to save your AAA get out the Euro its your only hope

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 19.

    3. alex
    This is absolutely ridiculous the way the French are slagging off the British just to avoid a credit rating. It's up to the agency's to decide not the French
    //////
    Those credit ratings agencies, should be scuttled as far as I am concerned. They're useless, don't cause anything but unrest and I wouldn't be surprised if they had ulterior motives.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    We're all in the brown stuff, but I would rather have an economy that isn't bound to bail out the semi-peasant econmoies of Europe who can't run their own affairs, and that at least has some latitude for raising taxes to reduce its debt. With the level of taxation that France has, it has nowhere left to go to pay its debt off. except hope that growth picks up. Time to get the long bows out again.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 17.

    Who cares what the French say, they have always had a problem with us. Whenever their own people have a 'issue' with their own govt, they blockade our ports costing us money.
    We lost millions of lives fighting for what we believe in, and with our european influence we are the nation who should stand up to our history and what we believe in, with our faith and in our nation, we have achieved much.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    Now the accusations are starting to come, first it was hope that all would be fixed. Now the blaming will start. This really is the beginning of the end for the EU

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 15.

    With our "leaders" I am not suprised at European scepticism.
    Shame "our leaders" drag the rest of us down with them.
    The only certainty is that they will get richer and the uk poor will be blamed for our poverty.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 14.

    Perhaps the French should be reminded that the criteria for entry to the euro had to be fudged to allow them to join, which in turn made access easier for other weak currencies. Are they trying to deflect the press from the main issues in Europe?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    I have a feeling that the French just want us on board because they secretly wish they had made the right decisions when we did. Dont join the Euro. Now they are in a straight jacket and the key is going to cost them dear. At least the screwing of the Southern countries has worked in their favour thus far.
    Pity they cant be a bit more grown up about it but what did you expect?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 12.

    Its typical of the French, they're just having a Gallic or is that garlic paddy.I don't know why we're getting so uptight about it, no one takes any notice of the French especially in times like this, they're having a little sulk. France, you're being downgraded because your economy is laughable and you're sulking because you couldn't scam us into effectively bailing you out, time to grow up.

  • rate this
    -40

    Comment number 11.

    It is a simple fact that the UK has no influence on the EU, NO wonder that the French have harsh words for Cameron and Co? Try the same withdrawal tactics in your local members club and see how long you remain a member! Cameron has managed long term damage to the UK , it is not just the French who should be criticising him.

  • rate this
    -14

    Comment number 10.

    Ehe french must be werring themselves laughing at anything this non entity has to say ptobably change his mind in a couple of days and stay indoors and sulk like earlier in the week

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 9.

    I'm glad DC prevented the UK from coming under greater dictatorial control from the un-ellected EU beurocrats. However I think he was directed to do this by the bank owners and the owners of the city of london business organisation, to prevent fiscal regulations on what seems to be an independent tax haven state within the UK.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 8.

    Startling. 'French and British disagree about EU'. Well well.

    *Yawn*

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 7.

    Me thinks that the French doth protest toomuch

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 6.

    @ 1. There's a profound difference between a national politician commenting on the economic policies of their own government, and officials from another state saying that another country should have their credit rating downgraded.

    And if you can't see that then, like many people who leave comment on this website, I'm afraid you don't know what you're on about.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 5.

    It's not only the French who need to calm their rhetoric about this whole, current economic situation. If people aren't very careful, they will talk us into the total economic disaster everyone is afraid of. Quiet, decisive, effective and responsible action is what's needed not inflammatory talk.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 4.

    Typical French arrogance.
    There is no there is no way out of the Eurozone crisis and they know it.
    Best find the scapegoat now before the train crashes, so they can say
    "If the UK had signed , then this would not have happened"
    The French are deliberately trying to turn the rest of Europe against the UK and their rhetoric is provacative and aggressive.
    The "R" was missing from "Le Sp(r)at"

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    This is absolutely ridiculous the way the French are slagging off the British just to avoid a credit rating. It's up to the agency's to decide not the French. This is a civilised society not a secondary school argument. We should do something about this sooner rather than later

 

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