UK-France Summit press conference

Prime minister David Cameron and President Nicholas Sarkozy held a press conference after the UK-France Summit.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

President Sarkozy: (Via Interpreter)

The members of his government who are present here, that we wish to welcome most warmly our British friends, David Cameron and his delegation.  I think that this is his eighth visit to France since he became Prime Minister.  

Franco-British relations are excellent.  There are areas of particularly strong cooperation, for a start France and Britain have opted for a strategic choice, which is nuclear energy.  Our cooperation could not be better and we are going to further develop it, both in terms of civil nuclear energy and, following in the footsteps of Lancaster House treaty, military-nuclear cooperation. 

In matters of foreign affairs, and especially when it comes to defence, let’s call a spade a spade: Britain and France carry the weightiest burden for European defence.  We are longstanding big military nations. 

The third area in which there is excellent cooperation is foreign affairs and I speak from the heart when I say that I wish to pay tribute to the courage of the British Prime Minister when it came to tackling the Libyan crisis.  David Cameron, as of the very first second, was convinced, as I was, that we needed to act and that we could not leave a dictator with blood on his hands to continue to martyr his people, which had led to the operations that you know in Libya, and the successful outcome of these operations.  I stand to be corrected by my foreign secretary, Alain Juppe, but we must continue to co-operate on Syria.  It is a scandalous situation that we are facing there.  In Somalia, in Afghanistan, there is a major convergence of views and a clear common determination to ensure that democracies are not strangled by dictatorships.

Now, of course there are divergences of view between us, which are the traditional ones, due to the traditional positions that you know, the French and British positions on Europe.  We are organising things in such a way as to be able to meet and agree.  I have always been of the view that Europe needs Britain and, together with David Cameron, we are putting together working methods whereby we are going to understand one another’s redlines, come up with a greater degree of convergence for our British friends to understand that the Eurozone countries need to be able to act swiftly, and we have to understand how important the single market is for Britain.  We will meet with, of course, the German Chancellor, and possibly even our Italian friends, so that we understand each other’s problems better and therefore when we do meet with this understanding we can reach agreement more easily.  So, welcome, David, to you, to your ministers, to your delegation, and congratulations for all the efforts that you are making in a very difficult time.  These are tough times for all leaders, but basically there are more convergences than divergences between us.

Prime Minister:

Thank you very much, Nicolas, for that warm welcome and I am delighted to be back in Paris.  As you say, this is my eighth visit since being Prime Minister.  I have visited this great capital city more than any other over the last two years and it is great to be back today to discuss -

President Sarkozy: 

More than Brussels?

Prime Minister:

Except Brussels.  But that, as we said, is not quite the same thing.  That has won me some votes in Belgium!  We have had good and substantial discussions on a whole range of issues, domestic policy, foreign policy, European policy, defence policy, but it has also given me the chance to wish my friend well in the battle that he has ahead.

This is the anniversary one year on from the start of the Libyan revolution and I am absolutely convinced that, were it not for the leadership of Nicolas Sarkozy, we would not have now in Libya people who are free to choose their own future.  I will never forget coming that day when we had the meeting with Hilary Clinton and others here and your aeroplanes had taken off and had started that brave action to stop Colonel Gaddafi, who was determined to hunt down and kill the people of Benghazi, as he put it, ‘like rats’.  It was combined French, British and American action, but very much leadership from Nicolas Sarkozy, that made a decisive difference in giving those people a chance of freedom and it was a pleasure and a privilege and an honour to work with you on that vital issue. 

I would say, when you look across the foreign policy and defence policy issues we have discussed today, I do not think that there has been closer French-British cooperation than at any time since the Second World War.  Not just in Libya, but also on the vital issues of Syria, Iran, Somalia, and of course the defence cooperation which our teams have been discussing today, and we have talked about too.

In Syria, we both want to see the friends of Syria properly established and the Tunisia meeting to be a success.  We are putting in humanitarian aid.  Britain today is announcing that we are sending food rations to help 20,000 people in Syria. 

In Iran, I think the leadership in Europe of France, Britain, Italy, Germany, others, has managed to deliver this oil embargo, which I think is going to make a real difference in terms of pressurising the Iranian regime. 

I look forward to welcoming Foreign Minister Alain Juppe to the Somalia conference we are holding next week.  Nicolas and I have agreed we need to take action through the UN to put in place the key building blocks of a stronger AMISOM and all the things that are needed to make some progress in that badly broken country. 

The defence cooperation we have discussed today is real, it is substantial, it is going to make a big difference to the military capabilities of both Britain and France.  We are similar-sized powers, with similar-sized armed forces, with similar ambitions.  I think, when you look at all the things we are discussing, it is partly about new capacity: the investment we are going to make in a drone programme.  It is also about making the most of our existing capacity, as we will be combining and using it together.  It is also about operational capacity, the ability to take action together, and it also covers the most sensitive defence areas of all, including, of course, the nuclear issue.  It is, I think, a real breakthrough that we made over the last two years and we are determined to keep pushing this forward. 

Of course, as President Sarkozy has said, we do sometimes have our disagreements on some of the European issues.  They are not disagreements between, necessarily, two individuals.  There have just been differences in some of the French approaches and some of the British approaches and we need to understand that, but our economic collaboration is actually extremely strong.  France is the biggest recipient in Europe of British investment.  We are a huge recipient of French investment, and we both want to see strong growth policies in Europe.  We both want to see a stable and successful Eurozone.  When you look at the specific collaboration and cooperation we are talking about today on the economy, you can see the real benefits for both our countries.

The deal announced today between Rolls-Royce and AREVA, in terms of supplying nuclear power, is worth 1,500 new jobs in the United Kingdom, £100 million invested across the south west of our country, and a brand new factory in Rotherham in Yorkshire that will be part of the nuclear supply chain.

I think that when you look at the detail of what we are doing on the economy, you can see two countries committed to working together, two countries that want to see growth, that want to see success, and that are committed to a very strong relationship.  It has been very good to have these discussions, Nicolas, and for the warm welcome, once again, you have given me today.  We will be following your fortunes as you are on the campaign trail in weeks to come, and, as I said, I wish you well.  Thank you.


Thank you very much President Sarkozy and Mr Cameron.  Mr Cameron, the two of you went to war a year ago, and it seems that for some time since then that you have been at war with each other.  How are those relations going?  Are you and the President getting on a bit better now?  If I could ask President Sarkozy, it is reported that Angela Merkel is going to campaign for you during your election campaign.  Would you like Mr Cameron to come and campaign for you as well?  Would that be a help or cause some problems?

Prime Minister:

The strength of a relationship is when you can have disagreements but actually then be able to go on working together on all the areas that you agree.  I think if you look at the detail of what France and Britain are doing together in terms of defence cooperation, not just building perhaps new drones together but cooperating over the most sensitive dossiers of all - including nuclear - I think that demonstrates an incredibly strong relationship based on our countries’ shared interests.

Nicolas and I have worked together not just over the last two years since I have been Prime Minister, we first met before he became President when we met in London, and we have discussed politics and issues and economics and European issues over all those years.  I believe it is a relationship that is easily strong enough to survive the odd bump or bounce when we sometimes have a disagreement.  That is what politicians do and that is what friends do as well.

Let me be cheeky and answer the question about the election; as I said, I admire Nicolas Sarkozy’s leadership, his courage, and I think he has achieved great things for his country.  Clearly the future is an issue for the French people but I make those points, I believe those points, but I am not altogether sure that if I made them on the campaign trail in France they might have the effect that my friend would want them to have.

President Sarkozy:  (Via Interpreter)

Well, in the current times, what can I say?  Of course I would be delighted if there were more people saying good things about me than bad things about me, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.  And of course, as you may also know, I have always been a great believer in the importance of Great Britain; I have always believed that the entente cordiale should become the entente amicable, a friendly entente.

David Cameron is a very brave man and there are worse fates than working with a brave man; I know where his redlines stand, there is no need for us to discuss for very long before I get to understand the specificities of Great Britain.  Of course, our history started a long time ago and will last well beyond us; we have had divergences of views but perhaps, had I been in David Cameron’s position, I would have defended British interests in exactly the same manner as he has.

What I can tell you is that there has never been a personal opposition between the two of us.  A head of state is there precisely to defend the interests of his nation and to try to lead others to understand how vital those interests are.  That is what a head of state is precisely for.  Now, I think what is interesting here is that we are going to go on working together. David Cameron is firmly for the single market and we need to make sure that the British are associated to the progress of the single market.  We ourselves are deeply attached to the progress realised in the Eurozone, taking into account the specific constraints that we need to overcome.

Now, with all that in mind I think we can bring our points of view closer together.  When we were confronted with international crises, David Cameron and I have always stood side by side, sometimes in isolation but always together.  Believe me, in the context of the Libyan crisis we defended a joint position before the European Council and we did not have too many friends on our side at the time.  And when we had to step in to prevent the massacre in Benghazi, one could have counted on the fingers of one hand all of those who were ready to go beyond mere words and to undertake action.  That is what counts at the end of the day.  Now, there are a number of topics, some of which we must go on working together, but I am delighted with benefiting from the support of David Cameron.

Sky News:

Obviously you have learned lessons working together on the Libyan uprising but how can you apply them practically to Syria and how can you end the diplomatic impasse in the UN Security Council which seems to have a lot of people stranded and facing, perhaps, imminent death in Syria as we carry on discussing what can be done to help those people on the ground?

Prime Minister:

What is happening in Syria is appalling; you have a government that is butchering and murdering its own people.  What is taking place is horrific and that is why it is so important that the world comes together and that the world acts as decisively as it can.  But, as you say in your question, we have to recognise that there are different circumstances in Syria to those that applied in Libya.  In Libya we had a United Nations Security Council that authorised force, we had an Arab League that wanted action to be taken, we had a clear opposition in Libya that was working on behalf of the whole of the country; there was a set of circumstances that made intervention, as I put it, necessary, legal and right.  I think with Syria we do not have all those circumstances in place.

Now, that does not mean that we should just stand back and say that there is nothing that can be done; we need to take all of the action that we can to put the maximum pressure on Assad to go and to stop the butchery that is taking place.  So we have put forward UN Security Council resolutions, there was obviously the vote in the General Assembly last night, there is the Friends of Syria that we have established and we will be meeting in Tunisia, there is the successive rounds of sanctions that the European Union has put in place, there is the work that we are doing with the opposition, we are working very closely with French colleagues to see what more we can do to help the opposition and there is the humanitarian assistance and help that I have announced today.

Is that enough?  No, it isn’t.  I want us to go on working, go on thinking, go on combining with our allies and keep asking ourselves what more we can do to try and help transition take place in this country so we get rid of this brutal dictator and give those people a chance of peace and stability in the future.  So I am not satisfied that we are taking all the action we need to, but it is difficult, it is complicated and we need to work very hard with our friends, allies and neighbours in the region to make sure that we do everything that we can.

BFMTV: (Via Interpreter)

Prime Minister, when you say that we need to go further to bring about change in Syria, what exactly does that mean?  What are the avenues of thought or the concrete courses of action that are considered today?  And the question is extended also to you, Mr President; what can we do to make sure that we bring about change in Syria?

Second question, a follow-up question for you, Mr President: on numerous occasions in these past days and weeks you referred to the German model; would you also draw your inspiration from a British model and, if that is the case, on which topics?

President Sarkozy:  (Via Interpreter)

With respect to Syria I believe there are two areas in which we can go further.  First of all there will be the Tunis meeting at which Alain Juppe will represent France and he will meet, among others, with the Turkish foreign affairs minister, and our goals are manifold.  First of all we need to strengthen the sanctions, not against the Syrian people, of course, but against the Syrian political decision makers.  We must also devote much thought to the ways in which we can assist the opposition to the Assad regime, how we can assist them in coming together and uniting for joint action.

Again, let’s call a spade a spade, the main obstacles that stand before us are not really to do with such and such country’s attitude at the UN, the point is that we cannot bring about a Syrian revolution without the Syrian people.  Of course, I am sure you understand what I mean by ‘revolution’, but we cannot bring it about if the Syrian opposition does not unite and organise to help us help them.

We will not accept that a dictator is allowed to massacre his own people but the revolution cannot come from the outside, it must be born from within.  That applies to Syria as it would apply to any other country; that was the case in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, and I believe that is the one lesson we should draw from recent events.  Of course, we are always willing and ready to do more, but our message to all those who want to bring back democracy in Syria is to gather together, to organise, to tell us how we can help them and we will.

Now, we never could have done what we did in Libya had our friends from the National Transitional Council and the population of Benghazi not taken the initiative of the uprising.  Of course, I am not saying that did not happen in Syria; the Syrian people have displayed extraordinary courage.

Now, regarding your second question, I think within Europe we must all learn from one another.  I have the greatest admiration for the British capacity to be true to your legacy and your history while all the while embracing modernity.  There is confidence in the fact that British identity and traditions are fearless even though the English language is perhaps one of the most widespread in the world and is spoken throughout the planet.  I have the greatest admiration for….  Well, the question was what I admired most among the British.  Well, I believe those are quite extraordinary aspects of British culture, that specificity, that cultural specificity, that is quite remarkable but that in no way contradicts the fact that the English language is spoken throughout the world.  So that combination of tradition and modernity I find quite remarkable. 

Now in 2012, of course, our British friends will see a number of momentous events.  The organisation of the Olympic Games in London and the Paralympic Games will give us, for once, the opportunity to attend the Olympic Games without having to travel too far.  I also have in mind, of course, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth too.  I have a very fond memory of the welcome Her Majesty extended to us in 2008 during our official visit.  And, of course, I also have a great admiration for the way in which the British are very staunch defenders of the City.  And I think the way in which they have come together to celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee also goes to show the fabulous spirit of that nation.  And perhaps there is a common point that we share with the British. That pride we take in our legacy and our history that makes us so special.  Even though we must always embrace modernity, that is a common point between the two nations. 

Les Echos: (Via Interpreter)

I have a question regarding the Lancaster House treaty.  To what extent will the project stemming from that cooperation, of course I am not referring to the nuclear aspects, to what extent will those projects be opened to other European partners?  One often hears, for instance in France for the past year, that the door is certainly not closed to their German partners.  But these projects will be carried out under Franco-British leadership, would you share that point of view and could I have an answer from both of you?  Thank you.

Prime Minister:

Thank you.  I think on the nuclear issue it is obviously sensitive and very important, that is something that is France and Britain working together.  Elsewhere I think there will be opportunities to encourage others to join in with this work but I think we should remember that France and Britain together is something like half of all NATO’s European defence spending.  So we are the big players, we have similar sized armed forces, as I said, and similar sized ambitions and we both want to increase our capabilities and have the most modern capabilities while also having reasonable budgets.  And that is why this joint cooperation, I think, is so important.  But of course there will be opportunities on some of these programmes to invite others in as well. 

President Sarkozy:   (Via Interpreter)

The military nuclear aspects, well, I mean I can only insist on the fact that this is a Franco-British cooperation and nothing else.  But I think that, in and of itself, it is already a historical decision that will structure our future. 

Now regarding the other projects, given the financial constraints that we are faced with on both sides of the Channel, of course if other countries want to contribute financially to these projects the door is open.  And I would even go further, and Gerard Longuet can correct me if I am wrong, on some areas, and in particular I have the drones in mind, if we can develop cooperation programmes with other countries who might be interested in participating with the funding, and I have one very precise project in mind, of course we will do so and in fact we already are working on such possibilities.  It goes without saying that given the level of technology that is implied by these projects, if other countries want to join in and help us shoulder the financial burden they will be more than welcome.  However, David and I agree on the fact that we need to be realistic and pragmatic about this and move forward.  Others are welcome, if they will move at the same pace as we will.  Thank you, thank you all.

Published 17 February 2012