Cameron and Sarkozy hail UK-French relationship

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Nicolas Sarkozy described David Cameron as "a brave man"

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have hailed the strong ties between the UK and France after agreeing to work more closely on military operations and civil nuclear power.

Their relationship has come under scrutiny after the UK refused to join a European fiscal pact.

But Mr Cameron said they had an "incredibly strong relationship based on shared interests".

Mr Sarkozy said there had "never been personal opposition" between them.

Among the agreements reached at a summit in Paris was a commitment to speed up creation of a joint command and control centre for military operations.

'Bump and bounce'

Mr Cameron said the deal was "a real breakthrough" which would "make a big difference to the military capabilities of both Britain and France".

They also agreed to push ahead with the next phase of plans to build a new generation of an unmanned "fighter drone" aircraft.

And they signed up to a strengthening of co-operation over civil nuclear energy, which the UK government says will create a number of commercial deals worth more than £500m and creating 1,500 UK jobs.

The plans for closer military co-operation come after the UK and France worked together over the crisis in Libya last year.

Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy led the effort, but they have disagreed in recent weeks over how to tackle the eurozone debt crisis.

In December, the UK prime minister blocked the idea of changes to EU treaties to bring about closer fiscal integration within the eurozone, saying the move was not in Britain's interests.

But speaking at a joint news conference following the talks in Paris, Mr Cameron said their relationship was "easily strong enough to survive the odd bump and bounce when we have a disagreement", adding: "That's what politicians do. That's what friends do."

He said the UK and France were closer now than at any time since World War II.

Mr Sarkozy heaped praise on Mr Cameron for his role in Libya, calling him "a very brave man", and added: "Perhaps, had I been in David Cameron's position, I would have defended British interests in exactly the same manner he has."

The two governments will work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "to strengthen international capability to react to nuclear emergencies and establish a joint framework for co-operation and exchanging good practice on civil nuclear security".

The move comes 11 months after a tsunami in Japan wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, leaking radioactive material into the air and sea.

UK and French public and private sector bodies in the civil nuclear power industry will also work more closely in a number of areas, including education and training, research and development, and security.

Ahead of the summit, a statement from Downing Street said: "This joint declaration will signal our shared commitment to the future of civil nuclear power, setting out a shared long term vision of safe, secure, sustainable and affordable energy that supports growth and helps to deliver our emission reductions targets."

Last June, UK ministers announced plans for the next generation of UK nuclear plants, confirming a list of eight sites deemed suitable for new power stations by 2025, all of which are adjacent to existing facilities.

The sites are: Bradwell, Essex; Hartlepool; Heysham, Lancashire; Hinkley Point, Somerset; Oldbury, Gloucestershire; Sellafield, Cumbria; Sizewell, Suffolk; and Wylfa, Anglesey.

Rolls-Royce is expected to win a £400m ($632m) share in the building of the first of the power plants and plans to build a factory in Rotherham to meet orders resulting from the deal.

France's Areva will supply the core of the nuclear reactors and Rolls-Royce will supply other engineering work.

"Rolls-Royce will become our prime manufacturing partner to supply some £100m of key critical components of the reactor for each EPR [next generation nuclear power plant] that's constructed in the UK," said Robert Davies from Areva UK.

In a report coinciding with the Paris meeting, the House of Lords science committee welcomed the government's commitment to a long-term nuclear strategy.

The peers said ministers had recognised their "serious concerns" about the UK's energy security in the coming decades and were pleased they had decided to appoint an advisory board to oversee nuclear research and development.

Nuclear power is used to generate about three-quarters of France's electricity, but Doug Parr of Greenpeace said it was "no longer popular" in the country.

"No amount of talking up of the French nuclear industry by David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy will cover up the fact that the economics of new nuclear reactors don't stack up.

''So instead of using UK taxpayers' money to prop up failing French industries, David Cameron should follow the lead of Germany and concentrate on securing vast numbers of jobs and economic growth in the rapidly expanding clean energy industries such as wind and solar power."

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