French president warns over Cameron's EU plans

French president warns over Cameron's EU plans

31st January 2014, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande has dealt a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron's hopes of renegotiating Britain's membership of the EU before a referendum in 2017.

French President Francois Hollande dealt a blow Friday to Prime Minister David Cameron's hopes of renegotiating Britain's membership of the EU before a referendum in 2017, saying treaty change was "not a priority".

At an Anglo-French summit held at an airbase in Oxfordshire, west of London, Hollande indicated he might be open to treaty change in the future to ensure the eurozone was "better coordinated".

But on the wider issue of reform, he said: "We feel that revising the treaty is not a priority for the time being."

Under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative party, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU and put the new deal to a referendum after the next election in 2015.

Hollande told a joint press conference that he "perfectly respected" Britain's right to hold a vote, but said: "We can't impose the British choice on Europe."

Cameron said he remained optimistic of achieving the changes he wanted and insisted the vote would go ahead, provided he is re-elected next year.

"My position absolutely remains that we want to see those changes, we want that renegotiation," he said.

"What people really need to know in the UK is that an in-out referendum... will happen by the end of 2017. There is absolutely no doubt about that."

The first Anglo-French summit since Hollande was elected in 2012 saw agreements signed in the fields of defence, nuclear energy and space exploration.

It concluded with an informal lunch between the two leaders at the nearby Swan Inn, a riverside pub dating back to 1885 which has featured in the hit television show "Downton Abbey".

Despite their ideological differences, the men put on a good show of cooperation, the only awkward moment coming when a British journalist asked about Hollande's recent separation from his partner.

The president announced last week he was splitting from Valerie Trierweiler after media reports that he was having an affair with an actress.

"Do you think your private life has made France an international joke, are you still having an affair with Julie Gayet and do you wish she was here?" the reporter asked.

To which Hollande replied: "I will not answer."

A more 'efficient' Europe

Although they disagree on EU reform, Hollande and Cameron sought to emphasise their shared goals to improve growth, create jobs and build a more "efficient" Europe.

Hollande welcomed Britain's growth figures this week, while Cameron praised the president's recent moves to boost the struggling French economy.

Members of Cameron's party have in the past held up Hollande's Socialist administration as a cautionary tale of the damage that Britain's opposition Labour party might cause to the economy if they are in power.

But the premier said Friday that Hollande's plans to cut business taxes and reduce employment cost and red tape "are the right way to boost investment and create jobs".

Cameron also praised Hollande's "courageous and determined leadership" in Mali and the Central African Republic, promising further logistical support from Britain for the latter mission.

The summit was held at the Royal Air Force (RAF) base at Brize Norton, the base for British C-17 transport planes helping with the French operations in Africa.

Hollande was welcomed to Brize Norton by a military guard of honour and two renditions of the French national anthem by an RAF band.

The two leaders braved the biting cold for a brief inspection of a C-17, a British Watchkeeper drone, a French armoured vehicle and an Airbus A400M, on which French and British airmen have been training.

The setting reflected the strong defence theme of the summit, which builds on a landmark French-British agreement on defence and security cooperation signed in 2010.

Under the shadow of an RAF A330 Voyager plane parked in a hangar, ministers signed agreements to jointly purchase anti-ship missiles for use on naval helicopters and to launch a feasibility study into jointly producing an armed drone.

The summit breathes fresh life into the 2010 defence agreement, which was signed by Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and appeared to stall when he left office.

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