David Cameron and Angela Merkel press conference
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Prime Minister David Cameron and the German Chancellor gave a joint press conference in Downing Street yesterday.
Prime Minister David Cameron
Obviously all our thoughts are with the French people following the barbaric attack this morning. The German Chancellor, Angela, and I have spoken to Francois Hollande this afternoon and offered our full support, and any assistance our intelligence agencies can give to the French at this vital time. And we stand absolutely united with the French people against terrorism, and against this threat to our values: free speech, the rule of law, democracy. And it’s absolutely essential that we defend those values today and every day.
I’m delighted to welcome the Chancellor back to Downing Street. I think we’ve very much enjoyed our visit to the British Museum, the oldest public museum in the world, and a stunning exhibition curated so brilliantly by Neil MacGregor, about German history and German memories, and it was very enjoyable to have that tour of the museum together. It’s a testament, the exhibition, to the collaboration between our 2 countries and I believe that collaboration will get stronger, particularly as the Queen will make her fifth state visit to Germany in June. Our exports from Germany are up by more than 20% since 2009, £43 billion, greater than all the exports we make to the BRIC countries combined. But there’s always more to do with your oldest and strongest partners.
We meet today against a backdrop of instability in the global economy. As leaders of Europe’s fastest growing major economies, we’re determined to ensure that we come out of the financial crisis stronger than we were at the start. We’ve both taken steps to pay down our debts, to encourage investment and innovation, and we both agree it’s vital that we stick to our long term economic plans.
It’s vital to seize the opportunities to increase economic growth, and that means making the most of the EU single market, and it means dismantling barriers to trade. We’re both very strong supporters of the EU-US trade deal this year. We launched that at the G8 at Lough Erne and we’re determined to make progress towards an ambitious and comprehensive deal by the time we gather for the G7 in Bavaria in June.
In terms of the G7 priorities, Germany takes the chair this year. We’ve been discussing that this afternoon and we welcome the priorities building on some of the things we pioneered when we were chairing the G8. Particularly cracking down on tax avoidance – aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion – making sure there’s greater transparency. I think this is really vital to make sure that companies do pay the tax that they should and we will continue that.
We’ve also been discussing how we can learn the lessons of the Ebola crisis, and how we can have a better rapid response to global health emergencies. How we can deal with the problem of drug resistant infections, all issues that are going to be pioneered by Germany in the G7 and we look forward to working together on that.
Russia and Ukraine
I’m sure we will discuss, later on this evening, the issues around Russia and Ukraine. This is going to be the second G7 summit without Russia. We both want to find a solution to this crisis. It’s almost a year since President Putin invaded Ukraine, and Russia is rightly feeling the cost of its illegal actions, with the rouble down more than 20% since Christmas. And I’m sure we’ll be discussing how we try and keep up the pressure; but all the time recognising there is a solution, there is a way forward; there’s still time for Vladimir Putin to change course and we look forward to further discussions between him and President Poroshenko next week. Meanwhile we’ll continue to stand by Ukraine. We agree that the IMF, EU and other partners should provide financial assistance to address Ukraine’s urgent financial needs and this must be accompanied by reforms in Kiev. I know we’ll be discussing that this evening.
Also, we’ll be talking about EU reform – what we need to see in the European Union. We’ve discussed this many times in the past but I welcome very much the Chancellor’s willingness to work with us to find solutions. We’ve shown, I think, over the last 5 years what we can achieve together over the budget, over the single market, over making Europe more competitive. And, as I set out at Bloomberg 2 years ago, I profoundly believe the EU badly needs reform so it can adapt to a changing world and generate the jobs and the growth that our people need.
I want to fix the problems in Britain’s relationship with the EU, which the British people can find very frustrating. I’m convinced this can be done. As the Chancellor said when you last stood in this room, where there’s a will, there’s a way and that’s very much my attitude too. It’s about securing what is in the best long term interests of Britain and also, I believe, the long term interests of Europe too. And then of course, we will give the British people the final say in a referendum.
Angela, it’s great to welcome you here to number 10 Downing Street. I’m sorry that it’s on such a tragic day for the people of France, and indeed for people right across Europe. But as ever, it’s great working with you on all of these issues and more, and you’re very welcome here today. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Let me say that I’m delighted to receive such a warm reception by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. We do this on a day that is truly a tragic day. This shows that we have firm values that we share, a firm foundation on which we stand. I think it was a very moving moment when we were able to address – both of us – the French President Francois Hollande on the phone, that we assured him that we will do everything we can in order to help him and that in this very desperate hour we stand by the French people. All of those who feel committed to freedom of the press, we say we stand up for freedom of the press in such a resolute way, as for the other basic freedoms that we hold dear in all of our countries.
Before we met for political talks here today, we had the opportunity to see the exhibition on Germany, on German history, and I was delighted to have the Prime Minister with me on this. He accompanied me on this tour. I think it’s remarkable and very important for 2 reasons: this shows indeed the very fruitful exchanges – mutual exchanges in past centuries, among European nations. It also shows the common foundation of our common history. And the fact that this exhibition takes place in the British Museum, one of the oldest and most important museums, is also something that tells us a little bit about globalisation.
This exhibition makes it possible for us Germans to, from a different vantage point, look at German history. I think it’s most enriching, most valuable, and I think Neil MacGregor has done this in a great – a wonderful way. And I’m also delighted that so many British visitors have chosen to see this. The expectations of the museum apparently were completely exceeded, and I think that’s something that also pays tribute to the closeness of our 2 peoples.
We had a reception afterwards, given to representatives of either British companies representing Britain in Germany, and German companies representing Germany here. We mustn’t forget that we’re building trade links with China, with India, with many Asian countries, many Latin American countries; but the basic foundation of our trade relations obviously is in exchanges with other European countries, and the fact that Anglo-German trade has grown so incrementally shows that we are on a very good track.
The growth rates are very impressive; Germany is also quite satisfied, but you can certainly, here in the United Kingdom, be more than satisfied. And with growth, usually, jobs come along; new jobs. And that is what counts for people in our countries, and this is what we want to build on, this is the agenda which will carry us forward in our European work. I think we have made a very good new beginning with the new commission. We think it’s very good that cutting red tape, better regulation, now plays an increasing role; ratifying CETA, bringing forward TTIP with the United States; trying to also adopt a very ambitious time frame here, until the end of 2015.
And after all, we kicked this off during the G8 presidency – G7 presidency, in the UK, and we want to take this further during our G7 presidency. This is my first trip to 1 of the G7 member countries. I outlined the agenda that we have set out for ourselves. There is indeed a great overlap as regards our interests and our issues that we consider to be important. We’re building up on what you, David, laid down as a foundation: health co-operation, for example, as regards Ebola – combatting the terrible catastrophe of Ebola, but also anti-microbiological resistances – fighting that.
And now, our fight against Ebola is working somewhat but we have not been prepared for this catastrophe, nor are we now for another catastrophe. We have to work together with the World Bank, with the World Health Organisation, to try and find out what sort of precautions we have to take in order to ward off a further catastrophe of this nature.
We will also look at marine protection, protection of the marine environment. We will look at empowering women to become self employed. Those issues that I understand are very important also here in the United Kingdom. We will certainly also work to promote the Climate Agreement that we hope will be concluded and adopted in Paris.
We also talked about the further development and building of the Sustainable Development Goals, which will then be adopted during the General Assembly, and it would be very helpful if the G7 countries could then say what will be our common position that we want to bring to those negotiations in the General Assembly.
Now, we already addressed all of the other relevant issues, and will do so later on over dinner. I think there’s a lot of common ground here between the United Kingdom and Germany, and, at the end of the day, a unified position also on European issues with Ukraine and Russia. We cannot be satisfied as yet with the implementation of the Minsk Agreement. We will discuss this – how we can see to it that this is better implemented.
I think we have already had very intense talks, very friendly talks, and also, as regards our future cooperation within the European Union, I can only build on what I said earlier on: where there’s a will there’s a way, to find common solutions. Issues were discussed here in Downing Street on the financial perspective, for example, and it was not at all clear at the time that we would find a way, but we stuck together and we brought about a solution; we found, indeed, a way, and again, it is in this spirit that we address all of the outstanding issues. Thank you yet again.
Prime Minister, the horrifying events in Paris seem to be a different type of attack, a different quantum of attack. Does it require a different type of security response? And for you, Chancellor Merkel, can you imagine conceding treaty change over issues around freedom of movement or changes to benefits to other European citizens – the sorts of changes that the Prime Minister will be asking for?
First of all, on the horrific events in Paris, I think this is different from some of the plots that we’ve seen here in the UK from so called home grown terrorists. The Chancellor and I had a briefing from MI5 and MI6 during our meetings, to get the latest information that we could. In terms of how we respond, obviously we will look at everything that needs to be done. The Home Secretary will chair a COBR meeting tomorrow. Our level of alert is already at ‘severe’. We put it there in August, which means that we believe an attack is highly likely. There’s only 1 level higher than that, and that is to move it up to ‘critical’. Obviously, those levels are set by the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre; they’re not set by politicians.
But we’re already at a very high level of alert. I know the Metropolitan Police and the intelligence agencies will be looking very carefully at what’s happened and seeing if there’s anything more that can be done here, and any more advice that can be given. But we’re already on a very high state of alert. Our security services do an excellent job. They’re working flat out already, as are the Metropolitan Police and other police forces. But there is no one single answer to these appalling terrorist attacks. We have to all be vigilant. We have to try to address all the problems of radicalisation that have happened in our country. We have to make sure we invest in our security and intelligence agencies properly. We have to deal with the problems at source.
But as we do all these things, we must be very clear about one thing, which is; we should never give up the values that we believe in and defend as part of our democracy and civilisation, of believing in a free press, in freedom of expression, in the right of people to write and say what they believe. These are the things that we’re defending and we should be very clear on this day that these values that we have are not sources of weakness for us; they’re sources of strength.
The Chancellor and I were at the British Museum looking at this extraordinary exhibition. We’re also here contemplating, how does Britain, how does Germany make a success of itself in the years ahead? And my argument would be; of course there are all sorts of economic things we’ve got to get right but as we do that the countries that succeed in the future, I think, will be those that stick to the values of freedom, of democracy, of the rule of law. Those are part of the things that make our economies and our societies and our political systems strong and powerful and good, and we mustn’t give those up.
You’ve got a very specific question for the Chancellor. Let me just be clear: I support freedom of movement, but what I don’t support is the abuse of freedom of movement, and that, as I set out in that very comprehensive speech, is what we need to change.
Thank you. As to the security issue, I would just like to add that, on a day like this, I think it’s most important to say, yet again, that our services need to work together. And I was able to get a briefing here by representatives of the intelligence services of Britain, and I think it drove home to us yet again how important it is for our services to work together, because one nation on its own will not be able to address this adequately. And that also is a testimony to our friendship.
As regards freedom of movement, as David quite rightly said, we have no doubt about the principle of freedom of movement being in any way questioned, but we also have to look at abuse of that principle. We are looking at the legislation here, and we want to see how this plays out at a local level. We want to also say to our local authorities, that abuse needs to be fought against so that freedom of movement can prevail. And one has to take a very close look at the social security systems of individual member states that, after all, are not part of communal law, to what extent they have to be adjusted to this situation, and that’s something we need to address together.
Madam Chancellor, the list of demands of the British government on EU reform is a very long one. Is there one concrete issue where you’ve already found agreement? You know that the British government is hoping for your support, for example, as regards reform of social benefits for children of EU immigrants and, sort of, [inaudible] back to the remittances – back to the home countries.
Well, I think where there’s common ground is that the last ruling of the European Court of Justice was quite helpful as regards abuse of social benefits and entitlements but I think we deal with all of those issues in the sense that everything sort of somehow is connected to other things. So we will look at this, we will talk about this not only as 2 [inaudible] member countries but also with our other partners. We together have said that we don’t want to question the right of freedom of movement. We will talk also with other member countries because we’re not doing this alone, obviously. And I think in each and every member state there’s a necessity to address this issue.
Prime Minister, the Swiss are outside of the EU, as you know, and outside of the Economic Area too and yet they have to accept freedom of movement as the price of a free trade deal and the European Union’s made very clear again this year that that’s not negotiable. Do you think it inevitable that if Britain ever did leave the EU, it would have to accept freedom of movement as the price for free trade deal with Europe?
And Chancellor, could I please ask you roughly the same question? If Britain ever did leave the EU and the Economic Area, would we have to accept freedom of movement as the price of a free trade deal with the rest of the EU? Would the rest of the EU, in your view, insist on that?
Well I don’t think that the right answer is for Britain to leave the EU. I think the right answer is for EU reform and then a referendum. And I’ve set out very clearly the changes in terms of immigration and welfare that need to take place; and they don’t, I think, break the principle that there should be free movement because, of course, many British people benefit from moving inside the European Union to live and work in other countries.
There’s very clear things I’ve set out; saying that if you come here, you should not be eligible for unemployment benefit. If you come, then if you haven’t found a job in 6 months you need to return to your country of origin. If you haven’t paid into the system for 4 years, you can’t start to get out of the system. And if your family and your children are back at home in another European country, you shouldn’t be getting child benefit here in Britain.
Those are 4 of the welfare and immigration steps I’ve set out. They do require some changes in Europe, but I think they are sensible. They’re practical. I’m enjoying talking to European colleagues about them. And I think that is the way to control the abuse of free movement inside the European Union. That is the outcome I seek. I’ve always said that if it isn’t possible to achieve these things I rule nothing out, but I’m very clear about what I want to achieve: a reform within the EU, a referendum in which Britain decides to stay in a reformed European Union and I’ve said very clearly what that requires.
As for those people who argue from now it’s time to leave the European Union, it’s for them to answer your question about what that means. I think, actually, the answers they give are often very contradictory with respect to the points you make about Switzerland or what you could say about Norway. But that’s for them to make that argument. That’s not my argument. My argument is, stay in the European Union, have this renegotiation, hold the referendum; the British people decide. That’s my argument.
Yes, well, of course the British citizens will decide but I don’t want to hide from you that I very much like having the UK in a strong and successful European Union and like working together with Britain for a better future.
Now speculative questions, I make a point of never responding to and I will not break from that tradition here.
Madam Chancellor, a question on the Eurozone after this Spiegel report on the weekend about Greece. The markets seem to be somewhat wary and nervous. Do you think that the Eurozone can actually weather Greece leaving the Eurozone?
Well, I think one has to tell the people and also the financial markets, and I as German Chancellor, also the Federal Republic of Germany’s government, have always pursued a policy of Greece staying in the Eurozone and that also the commitments that we entered into between Troika and Greece, Greece and the European member states were abided by and respected.
And Greece has actually made a lot of sacrifices; for many, many people in Greece these were very difficult years. We have come a long way and I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that we will also be able to bring this to successful conclusions. Always guided by the maxim that on the one hand, the Greeks have to do their own bit and that on the other hand, we have to show solidarity. This was a very successful concept that we’ve been pursuing and we’re going to pursue this also in the future.