UK-France Summit press conference
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
A press conference given by Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy following the UK-France Summit.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’m very glad to welcome my good friend President Sarkozy to London once again. He is a great leader, a good friend to this country and also a good friend to me personally.
We’ve had some very good discussions today. On Europe, we’ve agreed on the need for the EU to exercise real responsibility over its budget in future years. On the G20, we look forward to the summit in Seoul and discussed Nicolas’s priorities for his own G20 presidency next year, which I have no doubt will be a great success and an energetic success as well. On the vital issue of immigration, we agreed on measures to strengthen the excellent cooperation that we already enjoy on tackling illegal immigration. And we discussed England’s 2018 World Cup bid, which I passionately believe is the strongest bid. But the most important issue that we have discussed today is our future cooperation on defence and security and that is what I want to focus my remarks on this afternoon.
The events of the last 72 hours have reminded us that our societies and our security have never been more connected and when the threats from terrorism, from cyber space and from nuclear proliferation cross our borders so must our response. That means closer cooperation with our allies across the board. Our development experts should work hand in hand in countries like Yemen. Our transport security specialists should share information to detect and disrupt explosives making their way through airports. The terrorists think that our open societies and our interconnectedness is a source of weakness. They are wrong. Nicolas and I are absolutely determined to show that they are a source of our strength, our solidarity and our power in defeating terrorism.
And so today we open a new chapter in a long history of cooperation on defence and security between Britain and France. We have signed two treaties, one committing our world-class armed forces to work together more closely than ever before and another covering cooperation on nuclear safety. The result will make our citizens safer, more secure and better protected in the global age of uncertainty in which we now live. This will also help us to maintain and strengthen our defences at a time when national finances are severely challenged.
I want, first of all, to deal with some myths. This is not, as some have suggested, about weakening or pooling British or French sovereignty. This is not about a European army. This is not about sharing our nuclear deterrents. Let me say this plainly: Britain and France are and will always remain sovereign nations able to deploy our armed forces independently and in our national interests when we choose to do so. But we should also remember that the only times British forces have been deployed alone in the last 30 years was in Sierra Leone and in the Falklands. The vast bulk of our military operations - Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, amongst others - have been conducted together with our allies.
So let me tell you what the UK-France Defence Treaty is about. It is about defending our national interest. It is about practical, hard-headed cooperation between sovereign countries. It is about sharing development and equipment costs, eliminating unnecessary duplication, coordinating logistics, and aligning our research programmes. If we do all of these things, then we can expand our sovereign capability even at a time when resources are tight.
Britain and France are natural partners; the third and the fourth largest defence spenders in the world, both with nuclear responsibilities and both with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. We both have a willingness and the capability to play our part in world affairs. President Sarkozy has shown leadership by bringing France back into the heart of NATO and I applaud him for that and that is another reason why France is a logical, sensible and practical partner for Britain on defence.
You can read for yourself in the declaration we’ve issued today the detail of what we’re agreeing. This is the start of something new, not an end in itself, but let me highlight a couple of specific points.
First, we will create a joint expeditionary task force; troops who will train and exercise together, making it easier for us to deploy quickly together on operations if we wish to do so while also retaining the ability to deploy separately.
Second, we will cooperate on aircraft carriers. The last government ordered carriers that would be unable to work effectively with either of our key defence partners, France or the United States. This was madness. As a result of the decisions we have taken, we will adapt our new carrier capability so we’re able to operate with France and the United States. And as our new carrier comes into service towards the end of this decade, we will develop the ability to deploy a UK-French integrated carrier strike group, ensuring that either a British or a French carrier is always available for operations.
Third, we will work together on equipment and capabilities. We are both procuring the A400M military transport aircraft and will integrate our logistical support for that aircraft. We will work together on the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles. We will work together on technology for cyber security.
And fourth, while we will always retain an independent nuclear deterrent, it is right that we look for efficiencies in the infrastructure required to develop and sustain our separate deterrents. So rather than both countries building identical and expensive facilities to ensure the safety of our nuclear weapons, we will build together a joint facility, jointly owned and jointly managed, sharing our knowledge and expertise and saving millions of pounds.
Britain and France have a shared history through two World Wars. Our brave troops are fighting together every day in Afghanistan. But let me finish by saying this is a Treaty based on pragmatism not just sentiment and I would like to thank Nicolas for joining me in taking these bold and important steps, which I believe will make our sovereign nations safer.
Thank you, Nicolas.
Thank you, David. I wish to say, in turn, how I and my delegation are happy to be the guests of our British friends today and that we intend to work hand in glove with you. And we admire your courage, David, your vision and that of your government. We now have all the conditions to build an exceptional relationship between Britain and France, two permanent members of the Security Council, two nuclear powers, two defence industries that are up there with the best and British and French together represent half of Europe’s defence budget.
This mutual trust and cooperation is self-evident and we have decided to launch nuclear military cooperation between our two countries. This is a decision which is unprecedented and it shows a level of trust and confidence between our two nations that is unequalled in history. We are going to be sharing a simulation modelling installation in France linked to our nuclear deterrents and an associated centre in Britain. We have signed a defence treaty which is going to enable us to implement a combined joined expeditionary force, which will be in a position to undertake high-intensity operations in cases of crisis and I thank David Cameron for having agreed to put catapults and arresting gear on British aircraft carriers, because this is going to enable us to have a truly integrated aircraft carrier group. It’s a very important decision that our British friends have taken there.
Now, on the unmanned air systems, apart from the small tactical air systems there is no such thing as a European unmanned air system and we’re going to have, in the next 10 years, a surveillance unmanned air system. We are further going to boost Franco-British missile construction with joint missile construction. We’re going to develop a cyber defence and there’s going to be a long list which is going to lead to new interdependence and I say this very clearly in full respect of our individual sovereignty. You know, ladies and gentlemen, that in France sovereignty is as touchy an issue as it is in Britain, but together we will be stronger. Together we will do better. Together we will better defend the values that we share that are our values and there is a common point between the British and the French government, which is that we consider that the security effort should not in any way be drawn down in an increasingly dangerous world, which is that in which we live.
Now, it is in fashion to say that Europe is somewhat shy of strategic vision. Well, here Britain and France have shown otherwise. Now, what has been said, certain reactions in Europe I recognise, I understand, but let’s face it, Britain and France, who have taken such a bold decision, who have pooled their capabilities at the service of one and the same policy is a historic event which, furthermore, is going to enable us to make savings. Now, obviously we are doing this, it’s because we agree on the major issues pertaining to international security. We will go to the NATO summit with a shared vision as to the future of the NATO alliance. I have always defended in France the idea that France’s rightful place was in the fold of NATO precisely so that its voice could be further heard and that that decision should have brought Britain and France closer all the better. What are we waiting for to be divided? Who would stand to gain were we to be divided? Britain and France? Of course not, neither. We have common commitments and we will shoulder them together.
I would also, in front of my ministers, Herve Morin, Christine Lagarde, Bernard Kouchner, Eric Besson, welcome the other areas of cooperation, such as immigration. I had to handle Sangatte when I was Home Secretary and I applaud the fact that we have decided to pool our teams and share our teams in order to combat this odious human trafficking, which basically feeds on human poverty and misery and which brings to the west of Europe so many immigrants who are blinded by vain promises which are made by the true slave traders of today.
And I would like to say, furthermore, my dear David, how much I appreciated our cooperation last week with Angela Merkel on the European budget for 2011. Who could have understood that we should be cutting back on our budgets or stabilising them and we should go to Brussels and vote an increase of 6% of the budget? So when David put this question on the table obviously both of us leapt at it and said, ‘Yes, of course, it stands to reason.’
I attach a lot of importance to the cooperation that we will be building with David Cameron during the French presidency of the G20 and the G8. We very much want to include Britain in the work we do and the initiatives that we take; we want to work hand in glove with the British. Both of us are convinced that, as we stand here at the beginning of the 21st century, we need new ideas and we cannot solve 21st century problems with the ideas of the 20th century. We have to come up with new ideas and we have to provoke change, we have to lead change, we have to have vision and we have to be very ambitious.
Today I stand here before you and I am delighted to be able to say, with the British Prime Minister, that contrary to what might seem otherwise, France and Britain’s clocks strike the same hour at the same time. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Mr President, imagine a situation where Britain faces a crisis in, say, the south Atlantic, and the Prime Minister calls you and says, ‘Can I use your aircraft carrier?’ Prime Minister, imagine France faces a crisis in, say, west Africa and you get the same call, what do you say?
And, if you will forgive me, Mr President you raised the issue of the European Budget. You are standing shoulder to shoulder today, will you do so to defend Britain’s rebate?
Would you like to go first?
Thank you very much. Obviously we would only jointly commit a taskforce if we jointly agreed on the mission, but the idea of having a taskforce that trains and works together I think is an excellent idea because in so many parts of the world we are working together. We are working together in Afghanistan, we have worked together in the Balkans and we support what each other does in the Middle East. I think there are many opportunities but, in the end, this would only happen if there was political agreement for it to happen.
The point of what we are announcing today is that the two largest defence budgets in Europe are recognising that if we come together and work together we can increase not just our joint capacity but crucially we can increase our own individual sovereign capacity to make sure that we are able to do more things alone as well as together. Nicolas?
If I understood your question rightly, if the British Prime Minister and the British government decided to send its aircraft carrier, it would take a hell of a crisis to do so. To send an aircraft carrier out means a big crisis. Now, do you imagine frankly that our British friends would be likely to be facing a crisis so great that it would require sending out an aircraft carrier and that that wouldn’t affect France? What idea do you have of France in that case? And imagine the reverse: the French government decides to send a French aircraft carrier to a major crisis. Do you think this would not in some way involve or affect the British? Don’t we live on the same planet? Are we not allies? Do you think that I could imagine that major democratic country such as Britain would be capable of having a government that would, just for the fun of it, send off its aircraft carrier somewhere?
I could avoid your question by saying, ‘Well, we will see, we will analyse it and think about,’ but I won’t do that. You have to understand something; we are not identical, there are many things on which we don’t agree and I know that there is the Channel between our two countries. However, our values are the same; we share the same values and our interests are shared. All my political life I have argued in favour of a rapprochement between London and Paris; it has been a constant commitment since I got involved with politics. This does not mean that I forget the links between Paris and Berlin - and I am delighted that David Cameron invited Angela Merkel to Chequers - but if you, my British friends, had to face a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed and saying, ‘This is none of our business’?
Of course my first reaction would be to try to understand why an ally as close as Britain finds themselves in such a serious crisis and to see how I can help them. Now, of course, the decision of the British government could be politically totally sovereign, and likewise for France, but sovereignty does not mean isolation. When you are isolated you are no longer sovereign, you are exposed and vulnerable. If you want me to say that there is friendship between France and Britain, yes, I can confirm that, if that was the deep meaning of your question then I have no doubt about that.
Now, I think there was a little, slightly perfidious question. David Cameron and I agree on the fact that the overall European budget should be capped or at least limited in its increase. Does this mean that we agree on absolutely every minute detail within that chapter? Of course not; we have talked about it, we have had discussions and we have agreed on one thing which is that we have to talk about our problems in order to find solutions together and then put the solutions on the table. Now, I know that the Common Agricultural Policy is not the most popular thing here in Britain, but let me also tell you something and share with you another notion; the British rebate is not what basically brings the French that much closer to the British, but we need to talk about it as friends and as allies, as responsible adults. I can see what Mr Cameron’s red lines are and he knows perfectly well what the French government’s red lines are, but we have decided to talk about these things, to address them maturely. Instead of being confrontational about it we need to understand each other’s positions in order to find common compromises. Is that not in the interest of our countries? That is precisely what we have decided. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to spell this out
We have a question for the French President.
This is a question for the Prime Minister. In which sense to you think this pragmatic choice will affect first of all the relationship you have with Washington and, secondly, in which sense will it affect the British vision of European defence?
I think in terms of the relationship we have with Washington, which is obviously a very strong relationship - it is the special relationship - they want European countries like France and Britain to come together and share defence resources so we actually have greater capabilities. Often it is the case that the Americans and other NATO partners will be acting together and they would like us obviously to have the biggest bang for our buck that we possibly can. Coming together in the way we are, sharing training, sharing expertise, working together, helps us to do that. I think this will get a very warm welcome in Washington.
In terms of European defence, our views are well known. We see NATO as the most important organisation at keeping us safe and secure and we absolutely applaud the decision the French have made to come into the heart of NATO. However, I think what today is about, above all, is recognising what Britain and France can do together when we choose to do things together, and also recognising that it enhances our individual capability at the same time. That is why, I think, instead of just agreeing a small number of things - a small training project here, a little cooperation over unmanned aerial vehicles there - it is actually a very big menu of things that goes right from the most difficult nuclear cooperation, the most sensitive thing that two countries can cooperate over, it goes from that all the way down to how we can have joint logistics for aeroplanes we are ordering together. Because it is so much in our individual interests as well as in our joint interest, we have actually been able to do something really quite big, bold and radical.
We are told this is a treaty for the next 50 years. It is quite hard to predict what will happen in the next five years. Are you sure you can trust the French, this treaty and the events for the next 50 years? Also, if I may, a question for Monsieur le President: in what way does this treaty make Britain and France competitive with the United States? As you say, we have or will have two working aircraft carriers against their 13 - that hardly looks like competitive to me.
Well, we’re not planning to go to war against the United States, if that’s the implication of the question.
Let me answer the point about the nuclear cooperation. I mean here I think you can really see the joint French and British interest. We both have independent nuclear deterrents that we both believe are very important as our ultimate guarantor of security - it’s the ultimate insurance policy. But, for countries of our size, clearly it’s a major financial commitment to maintain and renew that deterrent over the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years - and with nuclear deterrents you do have to plan 50 years in advance. We have made that decision, made that plan in the UK, and obviously the more we can do to share some of the joint costs of having a nuclear deterrent with our French allies, that is in both our interests.
So we are going to be building a new facility in France, which will be jointly run, and there will be enhancements at Aldermaston as well in order to deliver this. And this, to me, is a perfect example of, yes, it’s a big and bold step because it’s the most sensitive thing to cooperate over, but it also makes a profound impact on the cost of something that both of us care about, which is having an independent nuclear deterrent, not just now, but long into the future.
You’ve asked if you could trust the French for the next 50 years. Well, let’s begin with the first five years - those are the most difficult ones, and then you’ll see.
Well, but let’s address the nuclear issues. First, David Cameron and I have to see beyond the democratic scope of our present governments. I mean we have to think in the long term. Have you any idea what investment in the nuclear industry, or military nuclear, represents? I mean be on the left or on the right, liberal or conservative or whatever, you have to think in the long term. I mean otherwise how could you be a visionary? If General de Gaulle had acted otherwise, we wouldn’t have had the nuclear programme we have had in France. So we have to think out of the box and rely on common sense.
France and Britain are neighbours and they are not going to move. Whatever the political views of those who will step into our shoes, they will be faced with the following reality - namely, that Britain is France’s closest neighbour. That is a fact.
Now, you say the Americans have more aircraft carriers than you. We might say so of the Russians, but it so happens that in Europe we’re the only ones who do have aircraft carriers, the British and the French. And, insofar as there is a British aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, a French one in the Mediterranean, why don’t we share what we do have? France has just as much interest in the Atlantic as Britain in Mediterranean. Is it so necessary that at every crisis we have to send our own individual national aircraft carrier group so that the British taxpayer, the French taxpayer, pays twice over? Don’t you believe that in a certain number of crises we will have the exact selfsame view? It is logical that we should send the same aircraft carrier group. Do you not think if France’s faces a crisis somewhere there is not an advantage to be able to think that the British aircraft carrier is an allied aircraft carrier that could come and help? I have no doubts about that.
And my last point, if it’s a question of asking Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Barroso to lead the French or British armies, no one has even mentioned that you could have that idea. It’s simply a fact that the two major military powers in Europe have pooled their efforts - some of their efforts, as it were - and this is to the greater benefit of Europe because, let me tell you, when Britain succeeds it, it is a success for Europe, when France succeeds, it is a success for Europe, and I come here with the pleasure to say so as I stand before you, as I have always been convinced that Europe truly and deeply needs Britain. And allow me to say that Britain needs Europe, just as France needs Europe. I have always, always defended that view and yet I’m no technocrat, I’m not in favour of a plethora of bureaucrats and I have had a certain number of frank exchanges with a certain number of European leaders.
Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, what is your assessment of the terrorist threat in Europe, specifically against Britain and France? The different threats we’ve heard about these last few days, particularly from Al Qaeda. And what can we do to counter this threat? Do you think it’s on the increase?
And, in particular, Mr President, what can you tell us about the letter bomb that was sent to you or that was discovered? And have you had other sorts of threats of type?
Well, we do think that the situation we face in terms of the terrorist threat is extremely serious. We review the status of our terror alert regularly. We have no plans to change it at the moment, but it already is at a level where we believe attacks are likely, so we have a very high level of alert.
In terms of the threat, we’re very clear that we have to work with our allies to combat it at every level, just as we are involved in Afghanistan to try and forbid that country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, so we are working extremely hard with the government in the Yemen to try to make sure that we deny Al Qaeda a presence in the Arabian Peninsula.
We have to work on all the levels. That is a diplomatic and military and security level. We have to improve our aviation security. We have to make sure all our domestic security arrangements are in place. This is something where there is no one single answer that is going to solve this problem. We have to attack it on every single level. We had a very good Cabinet discussion about it this morning. I chaired a Cobra meeting about it yesterday and this is clearly, alongside the importance of economic growth, this is the issue that I am confronting every single day in this job and trying to make sure that we have the best possible and most robust possible response to it.
I would have nothing to say on the subject of the letter bomb. The Greek and the French police are in close contact. I have nothing to say on the subject and I certainly do not wish to publicise such acts.
As David said, the threat is very serious. We are extremely vigilant and following this very closely. We are working with our allies - I was going to say on a daily basis, but on an hourly basis rather. We exchange intelligence. We cross reference our intelligence and we try and harmonise our responses. In fact, I am convening a meeting of the heads of security tomorrow in Paris.
Thank you very much indeed. We will now go onto another area where you can cooperate, which is lunch.