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 Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @ 197 Margaret Howard

    If this is the case, about tobacco growing, then thank you for bringing this more openly here into the public arena.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    190. margaret howard " Dunkirk more when they felt themselves abandoned by an army that turned tail. "

    Take it you're just trying to inflame things, the FFF forces that liberated Paris ( actually given the honour of ), where also transported to Britain by the little armada. Including a certain Degaulle, they wanted to fight on, the French government had decided the battle for France was lost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.


    Telegraph 3 days ago

    Tobacco growers could begin receiving extra cash as soon as next year after MEPs voted to amend changes in the CAP

    The vote, which needs further ratification, allows member states to decide which crops receive European Union farming subsidies. That could see countries such as Bulgaria, Poland and Greece giving huge sums to their tobacco growers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    @190 - as you clearly have no understanding as to what happened in May 1940, it might be advisable not to mention those events when trying to make a point. For the record, Churchill went above and beyond what his own Chiefs of Staff wanted him to do with regard to the BEF and AEF in France, and the Highland 51st Division was sacrificed to defend the evacuation of all Allied troops, incl. French.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    187. Dailymailreader
    1 HOUR AGO
    The EU have decided to start paying the CAP again to tobacco farmers,

    That is absolutely unreal.
    I don't mean I doubt you I just find beyond credibility
    Subsidizing tobacco
    What is wrong with these people

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    189 Loot

    "many European citizens come here to live.. should charge the EU for all the health, education and social costs that these citizens cost GB tax payers.

    Millions of our citizens live and work or are retired in EU countries and under EU rules receive the same health benefits as locals do. There are more English retirees in France and Spain than their citizens of living here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    It is little wonder there is such negative sentiment in the UK towards the EU. Political idiots seek to posture for their own stupid dogma by blaming the UK for being opposed to their preferred course of action. This intentional winding up of hostilities will do nothing other than cause offence and resentment. France may seek to impose it's will, but will end up destroying the EU. Stop it France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Hollande is a spendthrift! When the rest of the world is trying to come to grips with their financial problems, he wants to spend. The EU needs a budget that is fair to all, not just supportive of French farmers and industry. Where is Merkel in all of this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Much as I like the comment
    "the best way to see a Frenchman is through the slit on a castle wall" it's joke. not real.
    The comments on here about how "we have come to Frances aid" and "how dare they' ... is a bit Little Briton-ish.
    I don't want a federal Europe at all
    But the French Pres is doing his job, our PM must do his.
    However the Nationalist cry of I don't like foreigners is a bit scary

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    178 Jay

    "For the past century we've come to the aid of France when they've needed it"

    The French seem to remember Dunkirk more when they felt themselves abandoned by an army that turned tail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Since so many European citizens come here to live, Great Britain should charge the EU for all the health costs, education costs and social costs that these citizens cost GB tax payers.
    All we have to do is take these costs off the money we pay into the EU budget. Simple

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Let,s be honest, everyone knows we make good products but we need foreign management. German, French, Japanese and Americans, they all call the shots over here now. So whether we stay in the EU or not UK employment prospects are not in our own hands anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    The EU have decided to start paying the CAP again to tobacco farmers, now they can claim not just one payment, but two to create a tobacco mountain.
    The EU is also increasing its anti-smoking budget.
    I suppose by creating more smokers, it's creating a need for a bigger anti-smoking budget!

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    So the french president is conferming what many of us know from history,that is that France will NEVER be a friend of Britain(we have had two one hundred years wars) and other more recent acts to prove it.
    Lets get out of this hypicritical French/German club now,while we can.
    You can be sure others will follow,then the above to can have it all to themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Truth is France has been living beyond their means, for 30 years they've spent more than they've raised in taxes.
    Now Germany, always used as their EU milk cow, has finally woken up to its own strength, Hollande is stamping his feet. The long used ploy of attack the Rostbifs, to detract French voters shouldn't fool anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Just so we're clear. It's okay for the EU to force Greece, Ireland and Italy to make cuts and balance their budget but it's not okay for the EU itself to do so.

    Particularly while there are French farmers to be subsidised.


    Got it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Why not Europe a la carte? It sounds like a really good idea, and after all, we the european citizens are paying for the whole restaurant, so we should be able to order what we like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    @180 What a childish and irrelevant comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Why oh why in the first place did they accept countries with virtually nothing to offer and everything to take? I travel to Ireland a lot (love it out there) and over there they are still splashing the cash like there's no tomorrow and think it's hilarious that they live better quality of life than people in the countries that bailed them out- yet it's the UKs fault Hollande?

  • Comment number 180.

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


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