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."


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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  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The "French" and "British" have a long standing emnity going back to long before Hastings. Really the emnity has always been between the leaders. Outside the political capitals the provinces of both countries tend to have at least as much distrust and dislike of their respective capitals as they do of foreign countries. This is just politics i.e. adults acting like spoilt children

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Nice to see Nick being his forceful self and supporting Dave,, but maybe the French have a point. Is it our special relationship with the US, you know our soldiers die in their wars, that has prevented US based rating agencies from targetting the UK? And that the rating agencies are as much a political as an economic tool, and therefore not unbiased?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Whilst I would not wish to overplay the analogy, with this amount of infantile posturing between the chancellories of Europe, it is not longer surprising how a minor incident in a Balkans city in June 1914 led within a few weeks to the start of Wold War 1. The relationship between sovereign states is like spoilt children rather than reasonable adults. They need to grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    We've had holidays in France, like all countries many people are friendly but others are not, the same is on the roads. What annoys me though is that our country has to go by EU rules while France does not I expect with Germany and others too, in fact will turn rules around to suit themselves. Also why are people in Bulgaria able to use our NHS while Brits going there have to pay due no NHS there

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The problem with France is not the state of their economy, which is not so far from the condition of our own. It is that they have no control over their currency or interest rates.

    Why does nobody remember about exit strategies? With any project in any environment, a key question from the beginning is 'what if it doesn't work?' There is no formal orderly way of withdrawing from the Euro, alas!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Seems that every other country is telling us the UK's economy is a mess and that our welfare system rewards indolency. Even the Chinese and French are getting in on the act now. Maybe we should listen? They can't all be wrong eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Standard & Poor's and Moody's have downgraded countries that have had no proper control on there budget. USA lost there AAA rating because the two parties could not agree a budget till the last minute. The Euro zone is in the same boat as they can not agree a joint way forward
    Investers do not like it when governments can not set there budgets or there is internal in fighting with in governments

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Dear me Alex comment#23 a bit strong that comment about Le Belle France,why are you so concerned about what was said that's politics
    Why Clegg took any noiice beats me aswell
    I think its called after shocks in earthquake terms and it's been a bit of an earthquake that we have dared to say NO to some Euro members. As I have said before no point in having a veto and not using it end of story

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The cracks are now really starting to show in the EU and it's descending into the name calling of the school playground.

    When it comes down, each country wants what's best for it, and I agree, so now it's time to give the people of UK a referendum on EU membership that we're be denied for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    At last the BBC has given us the opportunity to comment on a decent story....unfortunately, they would probably remove my comments if I really said what I thought about the cowardly and two-faced French. However, it is nice to know that they are beginning to hurt so much under German control that they are having to try and deflect attention away from their complete and entire national humiliation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Who on Earth are the credit agencies anyway? Who elected them and why do they seem to wield such influence?

    Nobody can seriously deny that the UK is in trouble, much like France and many others.

    However, the French should be concentrating on sorting themselves out instead of having a Gallic temper tantrum. Seems like Sarkozy's short man syndrome has rubbed off on a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Why don't we all,just quietly, stop buying French produce?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Telling the French to lay off the rhetoric is like telling the British to lay off the fish and chips. It's part of their psyche - remember Cantona the philosopher?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    So France has joined Labour in talking down the British economy.

    No need to worry, nobody will take either of them seriously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Non, rien de rien, je ne regrette rien. Ni le bien ni le mal....
    Sarkozy is focused on his second term as presient; DC et al are focused on keeping their coalition on track and there is no effective opposition - why do we elect these people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.


  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Amazing - £50M a day into the EU by GB - over 60% of control to Brussels and our dear a few key French Neighbours want to insult us. God bless them with a little more of a thankful heart and a bit more respect please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The French are peeved that they can't get their hands on the huge transaction taxes that would have resulted from the London money markets had we agreed to the treaty.

    However, a really childish response from a nation that is known for its temper tantrums. A pity that the natural warmth of the French people doesn't extend to its politicians!

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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