France takes aim at Britain

French President Francois Hollande addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, 5 February Mr Hollande gave his speech two days before the budget summit

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French President Francois Hollande is preparing for a tough negotiation this week over the EU budget. Speaking at the European Parliament, he said "the negotiations are very difficult'' and there is not, in his view, a deal in place.

If there is a fight, the French finger of accusation seems to be already pointing at Britain. Several countries agree with the UK in seeking a freeze in EU spending allowing for inflation but Prime Minister David Cameron is seen as taking the hardest line over future spending. There are persistent rumours that further budget savings will be proposed by cutting back on infrastructure and energy projects. President Hollande indicated he would oppose such cuts. "Yes to making cuts," he said, "but no to weakening the economy."

The French president also criticised Britain for clinging on to its rebate, which is worth about £3bn (3.5bn euros; $4.7bn) a year. ''There are those who want to see cuts," said Mr Hollande, "[and] others - possibly the same - who want guarantees on their own rebate." He is likely to have the support of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in making this argument.

Francois Hollande is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. David Cameron spoke to her on Monday and afterwards Downing Street briefed that the two leaders had agreed that the current proposal on the table - 973bn euros over seven years - had to be reduced further. The Germans, who were optimistic last week that a deal could be done, will come under pressure in Paris to compromise.

But President Hollande's first speech to the European Parliament was very much aimed at his own voters. During the election last year he made growth his priority. This speech, in part, was an explanation as to why he has not been able to deliver. Since he took office, unemployment in France has continued to rise and now stands at 10.7%. In the third quarter last year, France registered almost no growth and its forecasts for this year are probably overly optimistic. Consumer confidence in France is weak.

So where does the fault lie? Firstly, the strong euro which has strengthened in recent weeks. The French president fears it will harm French exporters and so weaken growth. The euro, he said, should not be allowed to "fluctuate depending on the markets' mood". He did not call for exchange rate targets but there will be international concern that, as countries jostle for export markets, a battle over currencies will follow.

The French president also put pressure on Germany when he said that strong eurozone states must act to increase demand. It has been a familiar French theme. The view in Berlin is that France has been slow to embrace structural reforms like making it easier to hire and fire workers that would, in the long term, boost growth. They see the French president as being unwilling to confront his natural supporters, the unions.

The president said that the eurozone had largely put its crisis behind it but could not afford endless austerity. He warned that national interests were threatening to overtake European interests. In what seemed another reference to Mr Cameron, he said that there could not be a two-speed, or a la carte, Europe. We must move forward together, he said, or we will not move forward at all.

Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    "France takes aim at Britain"

    Can we have our logistics back from Mali then? You fight your own battles!

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The EU attitude is Britain needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain. They are doing you a favor allowing you to stay in. They don't see any reason for a referendum since from their point of view it is clearly in the UK's interest to remain in. Are they right? If England doesn't have to subsidize Scotland through taxes at home anymore, will it subsidize it though taxes to the EU?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Typical of a pro EU attitude that any criticism is some form of blasphemy.
    I go back to the idea that we joined a Common Market, a trading association, not a Federal union, obeying diktats by faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats riding a most lucrative gravy train.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I need only say one thing:

    Britain before the EEZ.
    Britain now.

    Quite a difference, is it not? Wake up, you've been destroyed by your 'allies' in 'Europe'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Cher Monsiur Hollande,

    Je suis French, and I agree with you zat we should take more of ze money off Les Rosbifs so that we can spend their money on our Mountaines des Beurres.

    Pourquoi non?
    Gallic Shrug

    Dp.s. o you sink zat zey will go for it over there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Its time the Uk got a grip and realised that we cannnot live in spendid isolation apart from mainland Europe.Our place is with the best of them at the Euro Table,its where jobs and welfare,civil rights and common sense abound.Its right for furture generations and can only benefit all as its has (although some choose not to see the advantages) for the last 40 years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Maybe you didnt spot it but Euro is raising for some time NOW and even the biggest critics
    dont see it fail any longer.Only the fate of some EZ is maybe still unclear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The accounts thing is an artifact of a stupid rule 99.5% good, 0.5% bad means can't sign off. But keep banging the drum.

    Frankly, the suspicion of M. Holland in this case is more than justified. The French approach to economics specifically is quite hostile to the GB one.
    You are quite right that playing the game nicely with other parties such as Germany would get a better EU for us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    The EU goes together like oil and water! It will only look united if it's constantly stirred up! So France should be thanking Britain for keeping the EU spinning!

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    88 There is no brief against Europe WW. If there is any "ridiculous hostility" here it by Hollande sounding off in an attempt to distract from the failure of his cowardly ultra-Socialism. Cameron is pro-Europe, he said so, repeatedly. He also knows that he can't follow Miliband's arrogance and deny a vote on the matter, the EU has torn the country apart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.


    Show me one set of accounts signed off by independent auditors and I will happily agree to an increase.

    OT, He's got a cheek really! Ok Mr President lets also review the CAP as well as rebates.

    I await your answer.

    P.S I'm not holding my breath though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Why oh why does the UK Government continue to brief against the EU... why do we drag our heels so much, why is there so much suspicion. Why can't the UK see that it could use its enormous influence far more constructively by engaging positively, instead of all this ridiculous hostility to anything European?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Post 73 Wolfie Peters I wouldn't disagree with your analogy about Spain and Italy. They are trying to swim against the tide to reach the safety of the shore. The French see no problems and don't realise that they are drifting further away from safety.
    The German's have tightened their belts every time things get difficult and try harder. The others expect the Germans to keep bailing them out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Ah diddums. Typical of tax and spend socialists who can see no alternative to their ludicrously wasteful, spendthrift policies. This man Hollande is a severe liability and embarrassment to both to France and the EU. How much longer will the French have to put up with him? France will be the next country to fail and that truly will be the end of the silly and deeply flawed euro nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The UK is a bigger net contributor than France yet their economy and population is bigger than ours. Yet you want £3bnpa more out of us? Ur 'avin a larf mate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    If Hollande wants some one or thing to blame, he should look closer to home. If the EU is to have any hope of survival it must realise that the cost of running itself must reflect the financial conditions of the people it intends to tax to fund it's obvious excesses. If the EU wishes to spend more on it's pet projects, it must reduce the size of it's wage bill and CAP expenditure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    At last a self proclaimed pro EU Brit. Can you give us some compelling reasons to stay in the EU, rather than 'it would be worse if we came out'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    stopping the rebate should be done, and of course osbourne should ensure that the direct debit to the EU coffers is cancelled immediately

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I met an Italian journalist who told me that the UK is the only brake the EU juggernaut has which is operational. Most other EU members are like lemmings running nearer and nearer to the cliff edge, because they just do not posses the moral or political courage to stop and remember that the origins of the EU was to create a free trading arrangement, not a surrendering of our individuality,

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Typical French arrogance. Hollande is only one of many voices in the EU and his delusions of authority are comical. If any EU state is in a position to make the rules it is Germany, which is one good reason why the UK should leave.


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