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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  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    We all are living under politicians, movers & shakers just as our forefathers. You build the bridges/railways and history remembers the Czar, etc. Stupid but that is the way it is.

    Best remedy..individually, you don't need them; it really is the other way round - power is something you feed if you get my meaning. Forget the group & concentrate on yourself. Freedom!

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    So I assume all the British ex-pats in France are packing their bags and leaving the country in droves after this massive insult by the French?

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    The French treat our nation with great respect by calling us by our proper name - GREAT BRITAIN / Grande Bretagne - when most people here use the appalling abbreviation "The UK" to describe our great nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    we are closely entwined with the EU and the euro

    when you say closely, how close?

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    9 Minutes ago
    Ridiculous for all these people bringing in historical,

    The only historical act of any relevance is believing the accountants who overstated the security of the weaker economies in the Euro.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    This is what happens when nations fall out the stupid thing is it does not matter if France lost its credit rating the £ would shortly follow even if we do not like to admit we are closely entwined with the EU and the euro

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    I say chaps stop slagging off the UK or the locals will never accept Nick as their Common Purpose saviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Ridiculous for all these people bringing in historical,
    animosity,boycot factors to what is an economic/political situation.
    The French are in extra trouble because of problems with the Euro and consequences of the feeble situations in Greece,Spain etc
    However the British problems are mainly their own fault which they are not resolving despite the extra freedom available to the BoE

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    Another spat with the French. Reminds me of the 80's BBC series, "France - Our beloved enemy". Wherein all our differences were manufactured by the politicians of their day, as the French saying goes, "Plus ca change - plus c'est le meme chose". Never was this saying more apt than for Decision a la Francaise where after two years of waffle they still cant save their Euro !

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    Dear Nick,

    Do you not realise that you are only eaves-dropping on a conversation that the French government is having with its electorate to shift blame?

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Being on the other side of the world, I am only led to believe (by comments) that the EU is an utter failure, the EURO is too, and for some reason Germany and, particularly today, the French are part & parcel responsible. The UK is okay or not is anyone's guess.

    My question is:who came up with 'all this' in the first place? Point the cannons in that direction and be one with it! Goodbye all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    Sarkosy has definitley let the side down. Hard to believe that Diplomatic French was the international language used by embassies the world over; not much diplomacy here though. Well, given the benefit of the doubt, he is under a lot of pressure, and unlike Cameron, has no escape route. Envy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    3 Hours ago
    The French leaders claim to be European yet still think only about French interest.

    Paid on the loans that France has taken out???

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Whose words carry more weight in France? Our Nick Clegg or France's own ratings agency, Fitch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    At last, a role for Nick Clegg!

    Steven Quas Collins

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Fellambler @155 I think the evidence is that only a few hundred Norman settlements had Norse place names in Normandie, they didn't have much impact and thoroughly absorbed French/European Feudalism and language, then brought it to AngleSaxonia and beyond.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.


    what you fail to mention is that Britain is not as reliant on the Eurozone for exports as France & Germany are.
    64% of French exports remain within the EU while Britain only exports 47% of total exports to the EU
    The Eurozone is in meltdown, hence slowdown in growth, coupled with debt, the markets see France being at bigger risk than the UK due it's reliance on the Eurozone

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    As one,very astute individual has already said.We need quiet,resolute,effective and decisive action.
    Over to all UK and European politicians..
    Which of you is going to save the day?

  • Comment number 304.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    Many people don't understand that the German's, French etc have limited government budgets as they are foreign Euro currency users, unlike the UK, US, Japan etc who are in full control of our own Monetarily Sovereign economy, so our governments can create enough money demand to balance labour and capital supply and have stable prices and cannot go bust.


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