I am delighted to be welcoming the new British Prime Minister here in Paris. Someone I’d had the opportunity to meet for the first time, I believe, five years ago and I’ve seen several times since. I am delighted to be able to meet him again in the near future in London on the occasion of the commemoration of General de Gaulle’s 18th June call, and we will have a working lunch then.
We had a very fruitful exchange. France is committed to this partnership and this strategic alliance with the United Kingdom. We have a lot to do together bilaterally, but also within Europe. I said to David Cameron how much I was looking forward to working with him hand in glove, in Europe, but also within the framework of our G8 and G20 activities. We share fully the same analysis of major issues such as Afghanistan and Iran, where there is complete convergence of views. We have the same ambition when it comes to climate change, and the follow-up to the Copenhagen conference; the same determination to find 21st century answers - in other words, the answers that correspond to our century now, and to ensure that the G20 remains an operational framework within which we can moot new ideas and build a new world monetary order.
We want to bring our countries closer together, and discuss, without taboo, defence issues. There is a lot that we need to do together. We’ve talked also about regulation; we have a common determination to levy the banks as we pledged to do. I also said to the British Prime Minister that we had to understand what each other’s red lines were - for instance, for the UK financial services - but we are going to work together. We are even prepared to have joint papers, working papers that we could table to think of ways and means of boosting European growth.
So this was his first trip abroad, and it all goes well for our determination to work together and the confidence with which we will be working together. I also said to David Cameron that France considered it a great honour that the new British Prime Minister should choose France as his first port of call for his first trip abroad. It is symbolic and we are much touched by it. And we are convinced that we will be working in very close co-operation. This is just the beginning and we have a lot to do.
Well, thank you very much, Mr President. It is a great honour to be here. You were the first European politician that I met when I became the leader of the Conservative Party five years ago, and I was delighted to make this my first visit as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to come and have this meeting with you tonight in the Élysees.
I think from everything we’ve discussed tonight, I admire your very dynamic leadership and what you’ve done in France and in Europe. And from all the things we’ve discussed tonight, I think we can have a partnership that has a real purpose - that is very focused, that is very practical, that actually leads to results in the things that we both care about. And we’ve discussed tonight, in particular, the need for co-ordination in terms of the economy, the problems we both have in addressing our budget deficits, and the fact that we want to make sure that there is a move in Europe towards the economy of the future, in terms of green growth, in terms of the new businesses and industries that we want to foster.
We also, I thought, had so many shared interests - again, on problems that need real practical solutions: how we make sure that we succeed in Afghanistan, where we both believe that this year is absolutely crucial in making the progress that we both want to see; how we can make sure that we tip the scales in terms of trying to pressurise Iran not to go towards a nuclear future. I think the steps that we’ve talked about in terms of working with other European countries to try and deliver a tough sanctions regime - again, practical, focused, results based, and it was very good to have that discussion.
I particularly agree with what you said about the G20 and the G8, both making sure that they are meaningful meetings this year, and that we work together for the French presidency of both the G8 and the G20 in 2011. Most of all, I look forward to what I think is a very important date in the history of both our countries, which is the 18th of June, and the anniversary of de Gaulle’s famous appeal. I am really looking forward to you and your wife coming to London for what I hope will be a very important and significant occasion, where we can really talk about and demonstrate what a moment that was in the history of this great partnership between France and the United Kingdom. And thank you again for making me so welcome, and my team so welcome, here in the Élysees for the very good, very fruitful, very focused discussions that we’ve had tonight.
Perhaps two questions from the British press, two questions from the French press.
If I could ask you, Mr President, about things that I am told that you have said in the past. You said that you loved the last British Prime Minister. How do you feel about the new one? And it is also said that you told your MPs that David Cameron will end up a Euro enthusiast. Do you still think that tonight?
Well, let me tell you one thing: my conception of relations between the UK and France is something that came to my mind long before I became President of the Republic, before I met David Cameron, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. Now you are very specific, you British journalists are very specific, and you knew perfectly well that I have always developed the idea that the Entente Cordiale was not enough. It fell short of the mark, and that we needed to do things differently that would bring our countries closer, that go way beyond what I can do, or what whoever is in Downing Street could do. That is my first point.
Second point. I am not the one who appoints the British Prime Minister. I will work with all my heart with the Prime Minister who has been chosen by the British people. Likewise, David Cameron’s duty is to work with the French President who the French electorate has chosen.
And I’d make a third point. When someone is beaten, you don’t turn your back on them. In my political life (which is a long political life) I have had a few successes, but I have also had a certain number of failures, and you see, I have always remembered those who stood by me throughout those difficult times. And I am convinced that David, as I know him, is that sort of a man. And so, yes, my thoughts go to Gordon and Sarah Brown, because they’ve left, but I know that one day I will leave, and David knows perfectly well that one day he will leave as well.
And then I’d like to say one last thing. David Cameron is someone I’ve known for a long time, because, whenever I came to Britain, I always thought that it was important to meet with him, to talk to him. And I think I am getting to know David Cameron. He is someone I like; he wants to get things moving. Then, as far as the British domestic policy is concerned, and debate, you know, I have a lot on my plate here in France without bothering about what is going on in Britain. Of course, we are going to work well together.
Now on Europe, I would not have been so bold as to make that sort of judgement about David, or about anyone else for that matter. What I did say was that, in my political life, I was less European at the beginning of my political career, and I have become gradually more and more European. Why do I say so, sir? Because I have understood one thing, which is that, if you want to change things, you cannot do so alone. You can’t go it alone. You have to create a web of solidarity. So, with Angela Merkel we work and we speak almost on a daily basis. That is what Europe needs.
It’s not too personal, because you weren’t directly involved in the decision, but don’t the events you’ve just been talking about in the Eurozone demonstrate that Britain was right to stay out of the Euro and will be right to stay out of the Euro for the foreseeable future? I’d like to hear from both of you, if possible.
Well, I think that’s a question for the British Prime Minister.
I think we were right not to join the Euro and I think we’re right to stay out of the Euro and, actually, in our coalition agreement it rules out any joining of the Euro in the current Parliament and I think that’s important.
I always had concerns about the Euro on a fundamental basis, because it is difficult. When you have a single currency, you have to have a single interest rate and some need for more of a single economic policy across Europe and that has always been my concern.
But let me be absolutely clear. It’s in Britain’s interests that the Eurozone is a success, that the Euro is a successful currency, that the Eurozone economies recover, that the structural imbalances and problems are addressed, that those Eurozone members that have problems are helped. It is in our interests that those things happen. Sixty percent of our trade is with Europe; it’s very important that the Eurozone is strong and stable and growing. That’s in our own national interests.
Now, obviously, as we’re outside the Eurozone it’s not the same call on us in terms of financial support. It shouldn’t be, because we’re not members of the Euro, but certainly we should work well together with countries that are in the Eurozone to ensure that that stability, that progress, the deficit reduction and the other things that need to happen are there. Obviously, the stability deal was done by the last government. We want to see that work, we think it does protect Britain’s position, but as I say, we want those countries to recover just as we want our own economy to recover. But on our own policy on the Euro, you’re very familiar with it.
Well, I was minister for the budget when there was the financial monetary crisis in ‘92, ‘93, ‘94. You remember there were fluctuations up to 15%. Now, all countries were engaged in competitive devaluation. It was an unprecedented mess, which cost millions of jobs. I remember the Lira devaluating; I remember the Swedish Krona devaluating. I am one of those who believe that we are stronger united than isolated. Now, this is a political choice, which is why I supported the Euro from its very inception.
Let me say another thing to my British friends. The Euro is a success, because in a very short span of time it has become the world’s number-two currency. So you can’t boil down the Euro’s success to what has just happened in the last few days. Shall I remind you of the Dollar crisis over the last 10 years? Has this prevented the Dollar from being the world’s number-one currency? Let’s stand back here. Let’s cool down when faced with such events.
And lastly, I will fight for us to go further. David is right; we have to go further in terms of economic governance in the Eurozone in harmonisation within the Eurozone. I’ve been fighting for this for years. And one good thing about the crisis is that it accelerates people’s acceptance of ideas which they initially felt were too ambitious. And when you see the problems you see that these are solutions. Never have the heads of state and government of the Eurozone countries met before the Élysees summit at the beginning of the financial crisis. Only this year they’ve met three times, so things are moving ahead. So keep your Euros if you have them; don’t chuck them. And Britain will decide what it needs to decide and I’m sure it will be a good decision.
Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you whether you are intending to support the Eurozone and specifically how. And to the President I want to ask you, sir, whether you are in favour of the sanctions that Angela Merkel has mentioned with respect to those countries that do not tackle their deficits and their budgetary constraints.
You ask a question about how we will support the Eurozone. Well, an agreement has been reached, as I say, by the last government, but that’s an agreement we will honour. It’s important that it does succeed and important that the steps it takes help to build stronger and more stable economies within the Eurozone. But as a member of the European Union, there are steps that we all need to take together to get our economies growing. We think that actually addressing the budget deficits, this is not an alternative to economic growth; we think it’s an important part of getting that economic growth. The greatest risk, I believe, to our economies is inaction on our deficits in that if we do that, there is the danger that confidence won’t grow, that interest rates will rise. And so we believe that addressing the deficits - and we’ve made announcements about that already in just the first nine days of our government - we think that is vitally important.
In terms of the steps, it’s absolutely within the Germans’ right to take the steps that they have taken. In our own country it would be a matter for the Financial Services Authority. All I would say is it’s important, I think, that we address the causes of problems and not just the symptoms. And I think the causes do go back to some of the deficits and the debts and the over-borrowing of the past that we had under an economic model that wasn’t succeeding. And we need to address those problems and one of the areas where the President and I have a very much shared agenda is making sure that at the forthcoming G8 and G20 we really look at reform of our banking systems, we look at the ideas of a banking levy, we look at the idea that President Obama put forward, which we agree with, of saying that retail banks shouldn’t be involved in the most risky activities - the so-called ‘casino’ banking activities. These sorts of avenues are areas where I think the British and the French can work together on a very focused package that would actually help to secure our financial systems for the future.
I agree with the Chancellor. We talked about this this afternoon, the principle of new sanctions. You see, a country that has too much of a deficit is penalised financially; it’s sanctioned financially, what is the result? It’s going to make the deficit worse, so we’re going to have to think of better sanctions. The Chancellor’s made proposals. I suggested, for instance, suspending voting rights. But there’s total agreement between the Chancellor and me on this, at least on the principle.
And as for the stability pact, well, it’s going to have to evolve, isn’t it? Perhaps we’re going to have to introduce more criteria, more transparency in order to make it more effective and between now and June that is what we’re going to be working on, together with the Chancellor, within the Eurozone and on economic strategy with David Cameron, within the framework of the European Union.
Thank you to all of you. We had said two questions. I think we’ve done at least that.
Unfortunately, the question was not said into a microphone. It’s about a shooting. Look, I heard about this. I’ve of course been informed about this shooting. I know that we have a policewoman who is critically ill in hospital as a result of this shooting. I first of all want to express to her family my solidarity, the solidarity of the people of France. Those who have done this are, quite simply, criminals. Everything will be done in order to catch them, in order to punish them with the severity that an act of this nature justifies.
And let me take this opportunity to say to all municipal police forces that they are entitled to the gratitude and the recognition of the nation for what they do. A lot is said, rightly, about the work of the gendarmes and of national police forces, but there are also municipal, town, local police forces who do work just as dangerous and who deserve the support of our people, and in the hours to come I will be expressing this solidarity.