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 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 252.

    Calm the rhetoric and reflect on the notable joint achievements since the "Entente Cordiale" - Crimea, Suez canal, Concorde, Anglo-french Jaguar, Channel tunnel; all examples of good cooperation between us. There could be more to follow if the Euro does'nt get in the way. Come on France, shake up and restore the Franc.(ou la livre anglaise, peut- etre?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    So, now I see it is not only the French who can't bear our stupid politicians. Being French I am absolutely ashamed and appalled with those comments, they are childish and unfair towards the UK. This is ridiculous. Pay no attention to it. As for boycotting French products, I don't think it would be a good idea as it will do more harm to the French people than to those idiots who govern us.

  • rate this

    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

    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.


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