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Britain and the EU: The view from France

Britain and the EU: The view from France

Published: 24 Jan 2013 10:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 24 Jan 2013 10:00 GMT+01:00

How has France reacted to British Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU? The Local speaks to business leaders, academics and expats with widely varying viewpoints.

From the press to politicians and business experts to expats The Local gauges some of the reaction in France to the now real possibility that Britain could one day leave the EU.

The business community:

The Vice President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce Michel de Fabiani told The Local he was not surprised by David Cameron’s announcement but said any exit from the EU would have a negative impact on cross-channel trade.

“In terms of business between France and Britain it would not be good if the UK left the EU. The EU works in favour of British and French businesses as well as for companies from other member states. It’s a huge market of 450 million people. It is the nearest market to Britain which logistically is very important and it's one of the wealthiest.

"Whatever happens in the referendum it will be in the interests of businesses in both countries to preserve the common market. I can’t imagine we would have tax barriers and raise import and export duties because this would be going back to the old days.

"My advice to French or British businesses is to continue investing as normal on both sides of the Channel. Britain leaving the EU is not going to happen in the short term anyway and I can’t imagine there will not be some kind of pragmatic arrangements made.

The academic view:

Economics professor at HEC business school in Paris, Tomasz Michalski, told The Local a departure from the EU would have knock-on effects for France.

“This would be a disaster, not only for Britain but for other countries in the EU like France who have strong links with the UK. The trade links and investment links between the two countries would be negatively affected. Obviously a lot would depend on what policies the UK would or wouldn’t adhere to if they left. There will also be a question over the impact on the thousands of Britons living in France and vice versa.

"In a nutshell there would be downsides for France because Britain is a big trading partner but it's very difficult at this stage to get a figure on how much it would be affected. Doing business in France for UK companies would undoubtedly be more difficult."

From a tax point of view:

French-born solicitor and tax specialist Patrick Delas, who works for London-based firm Russell-Cooke told The Local the impact on ex-pats of a British exit from the EU would be minimal.

“France and Britain signed reciprocal tax treaties outside of the EU, so these would not be affected. There may be an issue over the level of capital gains tax which will rise if Britain leaves the EU,” he said.

The ex-pat view:

Cate Carnduff, of Dordogne estate agents Herman de Graaf told The Local: “I find it very hard to imagine that anything significant will change, because the links between the countries are so strong. It’s all blah blah if you ask me. This will die down and we’ll all be talking about something else next week.”

France based ex-pat Andrew Hearne told The Local: “I couldn't really care less as long as it doesn't affect my ability to live here with my French other half and kids. If it does, then I'll fill in the naturalization forms, that are here waiting to be filled in, long before any eventual change knowing that the process takes a couple of years to complete.”

Another ex-pat Brian English was more concerned. "looking at the worst case scenario of UK leaving the eurozone totally and all relevant agreements being stopped then I would suggest it could have a big impact on many, especially those who are retired," he told The Local. "Imagine for example the loss of health cover agreements so retired people could not access healthcare in France other than on a 100% private route."

The French press:

“'To be or not be' dans l’Europe” was just one of the many headlines referring to Cameron’s pledge for a referendum as his speech dominated most news websites.

In an article titled “40 years of British scepticism towards Europe” Left-leaning daily Le Monde said Cameron’s announcement was simply “part of a tradition of British euro-scepticism that has developed since 1973”. Le Monde questions however whether Cameron’s promise is just a tactic to put pressure on Britain’s EU partners before negotiations begin over the EU budget next month.

An editorial in right-leaning Le Figaro says Cameron has reignited the debate on a two-speed Europe. "For Britain leaving the EU but maintaining a key role at the heart of the market is a reasonable compromise" but Le Figaro accepts that such an solution would all depend on smoothing over "frustrations" on both sides of the English Channel.

The French government:

France’s politicians made it clear on Wednesday they wanted Britain to remain in the EU.

In an interview with France Info radio French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a referendum would place Britain in peril.

"It risks being dangerous for Britain itself because Britain outside of Europe, that will be difficult," Fabius said, adding that Britain could not treat Europe as an "a la carte menu".

"We hope Britain can make a positive contribution to Europe. Imagine the EU as a football club. When you join it, you are in. You cannot just decide to go and play rugby," Fabius added.

President François Hollande warned Britain that it would not be possible to negotiate the terms of its EU membership.

 "The United Kingdom can perfectly well decide in a referendum to stay in or leave the European Union, that's a decision for the rulers of the country and the British people themselves," Hollande told reporters.

"But what I say on behalf of France, and also as a European, is that it is not possible to negotiate Europe for this referendum."

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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