Britain-France ties: How cordial is the entente?

French President Francois Hollande (left) with UK PM David Cameron in Brussels, 25 Oct 13 President Hollande (left) is sceptical about the UK's push to renegotiate its EU ties

On Friday David Cameron will squire Francois Hollande around the Oxfordshire countryside, hoping that the bracing air of the Cotswolds will soothe away the tensions. This will be the first Anglo-French summit involving these two leaders.

There is always a good deal of theatre to British-French relations. The two countries are forever comparing one against the other. And so it remains. A senior British politician accused the French president of driving his economy "back into the dust".

And then there was the article boldly declaring that "the most brilliant minds of France are escaping to London". The fast-charging British economy is compared to a sclerotic France.

The French are irritated. The Finance Minister, Pierre Moscovici, said France "deserves the world's trust". Perhaps. In official government circles in Paris they remain deeply sceptical of the British economic recovery. They shake their heads. The UK never learns, their argument goes. Another bubble built on soaring house prices and the City. What about productivity, manufacturing, etc?

And as a parting shot the French believe they have by far the better infrastructure and health service and more companies in the Fortune 500 list.

All of that may be true, but the French government failed in its promise to bring down unemployment by the end of 2013. Only now does the government appear serious about lowering corporate taxes. And many French business leaders remain sceptical of the offer to find 30bn euros (£25bn; $41bn) in corporate tax breaks in exchange for hiring more workers by 2017. And then there are the newly-announced spending cuts - 50bn euros.

UK in/out question

But Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande will not be discussing the French leader's conversion to supply-side economics. There will be evidence of the burgeoning defence relationship, with an agreement to build together a new helicopter-launched missile to attack small ships and there will be discussions on energy and space agencies.

The heart of the conversation will be Europe. In capital after capital you hear similar words to those uttered by a senior French official - a British exit from the EU "would be a catastrophe for France as well as Britain". (The demographics suggest the UK could be Europe's largest economy by 2050 - and the whole European project would be weaker if its biggest economy was on the outside.) The French refer to a Brexit (British exit) as "the possible accident". They want to avoid it, but not at any price.

The British believe that a renegotiation of the European treaties is inevitable. The German government says that all the steps to further integrate the eurozone countries require the legal backing of a change to the treaties. The British see that as opening the door for them to renegotiate their relationship with the EU ahead of a referendum in 2017. It is clear that President Hollande will not be helpful in meeting that deadline. A treaty change would trigger a referendum in France and in the current malaise he would be fearful of the French voting "non".

But President Hollande's resistance goes deeper and the Elysee has been briefing on this for some time. They will not accept a Europe a la carte, where countries cherry-pick what they like. Yes, they will examine reforms that would benefit all, but they will not agree to opt-outs for the UK on employment law, workers' rights or free movement. They will not agree to a loosening of ties that undermines European solidarity.

Election challenge

The dilemma for David Cameron is this: there are plenty of potential allies - not least the Germans - for less regulation, expanding the single market and even curbing migration, but will the PM win enough concessions to convince the country and his own backbenchers that the whole exercise has been worthwhile?

It might be tempting to see the French president as vulnerable, unpopular and weakened by scandal. There is little evidence, however, that the French public cares about his scooter rides around Paris. They prefer not to judge him. But they do care about jobs.

In the months ahead the French have the opportunity to deliver a verdict on the government in both the municipal and European elections. Last week an opinion poll placed the avowedly Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), in first place for the May European elections.

The challenge for David Cameron is to frame his reforms in a way that might also appeal to the French voter and so perhaps weaken the resistance coming from the Elysee.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

German economy: Eurozone star causing concern

Politicians in Germany, the engine room of the eurozone, will watch with anxiety on Friday whether the country slides into recession.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    I can understand why some English don't like hearing from an American that there are a lot of Scots and Irish who detest them. I'm just the messenger. I only relay what they tell me. If you choose to ignore it go right ahead. If you think the French admire you and aren't just playing you for suckers by flattering you, go ahead with that too. At least we in America know who are friends aren't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    "---François Hollande threw a hand grenade into the prime minister's EU plans by warning that an EU treaty change was not a priority for France.

    Hollande also warned at a distinctly chilly UK-France summit that any major change to the rules of the EU would trigger a referendum in France."


  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    #335 David Horton

    You are proud of being superficial and dishonest towards other contributors ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    334. QOT


    It's been a surprise, but a pleasure.

    Buona notte amici
    Domani e un altro giorno nella lotta
    Ciao ciao.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    #329 DH

    "I wasn't referring to money or monetary cost.

    "discussion finished"

    (#324 qot "discussion finished ?")

    Yep. Lets have a vote."

    I object to your arrogance of taking honest contributors

    -- on a dishonest ride !

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    David:Britons never saw the EEC as an antidote to war

    Today EU is no longer based on trade, rather it is based on integration

    Although I am opposed to federal United States of Europe on the basis that it is similar to USSR
    there are many good people in Europe including the German Dr+staff that helped Peyton Manning with his neck (Super Bowl this weekend)

    Love ya, Peyton
    Go Broncos!!! :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Ah, if you live near St Anns Head, then you live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I spent successive summers in Hasguard Cross as a kid, fishing for mackerel & exploring the caves in Little Haven.

    And you are right. The EU may be our biggest market, but only because the EU is too insular and protectionist.

    And they call us the 'little englanders'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    #327 Phffft

    "It would freshen up our out look,being Atlantic centric rather than absorbed by Continental Europe."

    " I argue for Britain's membership because I want to be able to say to countries like Brazil 'Come to Britain and you can sell to the 320 million consumers across Europe'."

    -- a discussion using nationalism as the basis --instead of facts/ experience --is a waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    "so why fix it if it's not broke?"
    It is breaking down though. The similarities between 1914 and the Latin Monetary Unit and the modern single mechanism are uncanny and uncomfortable to say the least. Continental Europe seems to have gone full circle and unless recovery is imminent and sustained there will be trouble somewhere and things will unravel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Yep. A benchmark. Not however, my benchmark.

    "too expensive"

    I wasn't referring to money or monetary cost.

    "discussion finished"

    Yep. Lets have a vote.

    That isn't quite it. Sorry if that seems patronising - not my intention. Britons (not UK) never saw the EEC as an antidote to European war. For island Britain, the issue was trade, always trade.

    Still is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Oaktree: Kerry

    Kerry is going to meet with the opposition leader of Ukraine

    If there is to be change in Ukaine, the best time to do so is during Olympics

    Sieu: Every time I've spoken to Scots about England

    Makes me think of So I Married an Axe Murderer with Mike Myers in which the Scottish were not big fans of English

    But of course Mike Myers also played British spy Austin Powers

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    324. David Horton

    Looking South West from St Ann`s head in my county its next stop
    South America,looking West its US & Canada.UK whilst trading with Europe,so much beckons from that direction.It would freshen up our out look,being Atlantic centric rather than absorbed by Continental Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    #321 DH

    "My opinion. Purely a benchmark, nothing more."

    OK --here is a benchmark.

    You mentioned ´individuality´ -- National and local culture ?

    The EU gives subsidies and funds for those.

    --too expensive ?

    discussion finished ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    kane: The British do not share this mortal fear of war on the continent as do the other members

    Right now European countries are getting along peacefully- so why fix it if it's not broke?

    k: I sense they are on a self fullfilling prophesy

    They are on a power trip as they want to be the next big superpower
    and they are willing to achieve such at all costs

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    When you say EU,do you mean Brussels?
    Not necesarily
    Kane hits it squarely on the head. In Britain we don't have a "we must have unity or war" mentality.

    Britain has prospered on a huge maritime trade, from the Phoenicians to the East Indies to post-Zedong China. It's what we do. Having no land border with Felip II of Spain, Napoleon or Bismarck gives you a different perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    321. David Horton

    "However,when the EU moves towards Barosso's vision of a fully fledged federal state, then I would find that difficult to take"

    Like wise,when the Unemployment in most South & East regions is acute,Brussels,demanded increased budget.For me proving already they are remote & uncaring.This is a dangerous unwieldy & for many
    unwanted squandering monolith.Ahhh I feel better now

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    316. David Horton

    "I just see the EU as being the enemy of everything that is good about European individuality"

    When you say EU,do you mean Brussels?.
    The EU as a trading entity by individual independent Nations YES.
    Brussels is another layer of politicos,who could never run a successful
    enterprise.It would be a massive saving if it was scrapped.One has to cut overheads to remain solvent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    and you will fight for your individuality?
    I am a democrat and prefer to argue!

    However, when the EU moves towards Barosso's vision of a fully fledged federal state, then I would find that difficult to take.

    Would I fight?
    I have a family and we depend on each other, so probably not.


    My opinion. Purely a benchmark, nothing more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    #318 DH

    "Shall we now, who are here, have an adult discussion?"

    You ask to open a discussion with one sentence --and close it with the second sentence ?

    "For me, it's simple. The cost of EU membership far outweighs any perceived benefits."

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    I'm sceptical. I want freedom of movement and ease of business. It's becoming expensive. I don't want another layer of bureaucracy and outside involvement in British affairs. The British do not share this mortal fear of war on the continent as do the other members. I sense they are on a self fullfilling prophesy. They seem not to understand equal and different. On their own heads be it.


Page 1 of 17



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.