A transcript of the Prime Minister's press conference in Prague during his official visit to the Czech Republic on 23 June 2011.
A question for Prime Minister Cameron: Mr Cameron, British media informed about a likely clash between Germany and Britain at the EU summit. The German government is, according to the press, signalling that Britain would need to contribute to the bailout for Greece. Are you sure that your coalition, together with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is strong enough that you maintain your position?
Our position is very clear: Britain is a board member of the International Monetary Fund so of course we are involved in any of these situations anywhere in the world through the IMF, and let me be clear about that. What we are also absolutely clear about is it would be wrong to use the European Financial Mechanism, the ESFM, for a second bailout of Greece for a number of very good reasons.
First of all, Britain was not involved in the first bailout of Greece; that was something done by eurozone members, and done after discussion of eurozone members. The second point is that it is eurozone members who have been discussing the Greek situation and the British, as we are not members of the eurozone, have not been involved in these discussions at all, so it would be quite wrong now to ask us to contribute.
So I think the situation is absolutely clear: we want a successful eurozone; we want the eurozone to sort out its problems. We have contributed: in the case of Ireland we made a bilateral loan; in the case of Portugal, we contributed. But this is a different situation, a different country, and I do not believe the European Financial Mechanism is appropriate. We have support for that from many other countries and also I have received assurances from other countries, including from the Germans, that this won’t be the case.
I am sure that they will stick to those assurances and whatever arrangements are reached in Europe and the eurozone for Greece will not include the European Financial Mechanism.
I have two questions, one concerns Mr Obama’s speech on Afghanistan where he said that the US forces will leave the country in the next year. Can both gentlemen say what your countries will do in that respect? The other one is have you discussed the army deals, the Gripen deals in the past and in the future? Thank you.
Thank you. I spoke with President Obama yesterday and he talked to me in advance of his speech to the American people about his plans in Afghanistan. His plans involve what he promised some years ago which was to put a surge into Afghanistan and then, from July 2011, progressively remove that surge. What President Obama explained and I think it is important to understand is that of the 30,000 some 10,000 will be removed this year and the remainder by the end of the summer of 2012, and so what this means is that there will be no let-up in the pressure on the insurgency in Afghanistan because of what the Americans are planning to do.
I think the surge has been effective. I’ve seen that first-hand in Helmand province where British troops are and the enormous difference that the arrival of American troops working with British troops together has made, so I’m satisfied that the removal of the surge will still enable us to keep up the pressure on the insurgency as we transition to Afghan control between now and the end of 2014, and I believe that that is on track. And Britain has been very clear that after the end of 2014, we will not have troops in combat in Afghanistan and we won’t have troops in any large number as they are today. We may be in some training role with a small number of troops but nothing like we have today.
In terms of our own plans, I announced some weeks ago that we were taking around 430 people out of Afghanistan in the current period. That really effectively removes the surge that Britain contributed, a small surge itself, a year or so ago, and that removes effectively that surge. That leaves us with an enduring number of 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, the second-largest contributor, and we’ll be looking to make further reductions as we move towards the end of 2014, but I don’t have anything further to say about that today.
What I would say is just put on record how much I admire the fact that, as another NATO country, the Czech Republic is making a significant contribution and I think it’s important that all of us work together to ensure real pressure on the insurgency this year and also a stepped-up political process so that we bring this conflict effectively to an end.
In terms of the issue of the Gripen issue, I’ve said to my friend and ally Prime Minister Nečas that the British will make sure that the Serious Fraud Office responds to any and all requests that it receives from the Czech Republic and we’ll do our best to respond to those enquiries. I believe there are some new enquiries that we’ve received and we will obviously look at those carefully and see what we can do to help for you to bring this issue to a close.
Prime Minister, you mentioned Britain’s status as a member of the board of the IMF, but a number of people, even the acting head of the IMG, says the answer to Europe’s sovereign debt crisis is greater financial integration, i.e. more Europe, not less. What would be your answer to that? And secondly, on Libya, do we have an open-ended commitment to Libya that we’re going to be able to fulfil?
On the first issue, let me give you an answer that might surprise you. I agree with that. I think the eurozone countries, they probably do need to take further steps to coordinate and to make sense of the arrangements. That was one of the reasons why I’ve always opposed Britain’s entry into the eurozone. I think that once you have a single currency it’s very difficult to stop the march towards more of a single country and I think the eurozone is taking tentative steps to do more, to be coordinated and frankly they need to be, and what I’ve said is Britain shouldn’t stand in their way as they try to do that. We must be clear about our own national interest and I think that is to be part of the 27, part of a single market, competing, cooperating, working with all our partners in Europe, but we shouldn’t be in the eurozone. And so that is the position that I take, but clearly we have a big interest in the eurozone sorting its problems out and I hope that they will.
On the issue of Libya, the point I’d make is this, that the alliance of countries that is taking part in these operations includes some of the richest and most powerful and best-equipped nations on earth. I spoke about this to President Obama last night, who was saying that he thought that things were going well in Libya and the US commitment continues. As well as having those countries, we also have the machinery of NATO, we have the backing of the United Nations, we have the support of the Arab League, we have a number of Arab countries as active participants, we have a growing number of countries in the contact group coming together, and so time is on our side. Time is not on the side of Colonel Gaddafi, who is losing his leading military commanders, he’s lost his foreign minister, he’s lost his oil minister, he’s lost most of his country, he’s losing in the west of the country where the rebellion is growing, the sanctions are hurting him, the sands of time are running out for him, and so we need to be patient and persistent, and while there are countries in the European Union who clearly are not being part of the active military campaign, I hope that at the European Council we’ll have continued very strong support for the mission that we’re engaged in, because what this is all about is putting in place UN Resolution 1973. It’s about protecting the Libyan people from a brutal dictator. It’s about giving them the chance to choose their own future.
And it is - standing here in Prague, that had its own incredible spring - it is about the Arab spring. If there is success in Libya, in Tunisia, in Egypt, then we will see a genuine Arab spring and not an Arab winter. That is what I think is in the interests of everyone in Europe, that our neighbourhood is made up of countries that are people, prosperous, have been growing in their democracy, and that will enhance not only our own prosperity, but also our security and our safety as well.