Hollande waits to hear of Cameron’s EU reforms

The French president François Hollande heads to the UK on Tuesday with frustrated French diplomats hoping the UK Prime Minister will finally reveal a little more about his much-hyped plans for EU reform.

Hollande waits to hear of Cameron's EU reforms
Can you at least let us know what you want Mr Cameron? Photo: AFP

When David Cameron visited Paris back in May to open talks over his plans for EU reform the French were left a little bemused given that he failed to lay out any concrete ideas.

Speaking to the press after the Elysée meeting, Hollande said Cameron had revealed “some information” but that he looked forward to hearing more about what the Prime Minister had to say in future talks.

Four months on, and Hollande may get that chance when he heads to the UK on Tuesday for a brief stay at the Prime Minister’s country residence.

Cameron, who has been hit with bizarre allegations he inserted “his private parts into a dead pig's mouth”, is desperate to win support from France for his reforms, but frustration has grown in Paris that there is still no meat on the bones of what exactly the Prime Minister is proposing.

“Until we see a ten-page document laying out their proposals, it’s difficult to know completely what they want and what they mean,” a French government official was quoted in the Financial Times.

“This ten-page document must be somewhere but we are yet to see it.”

So far Cameron has only suggested that he wants reform in four key areas before he can commit to campaigning to keep Britain in the EU before the planned In/Out referendum to be held in 2016 or 2017.

His chief requirement is a change to laws surrounding access to benefits by EU migrants. Cameron wants restrictions on benefits unless migrants have lived in the country for four years.

He is also expected to demand an opt-out from one the EU's core principles of forging an “ever-closer union” between member states.

A spokesperson for France's presidential palace said: “Reforming the EU, yes, but it must benefit all of Europe and not just the UK.

“Yes to increasing competitiveness and simplification, but no to deregulation and social cuts.”

Before his visit to Paris in May, Cameron was warned by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that he was playing a dangerous game.

“The British population has gotten used to being told: 'Europe is a bad thing', and the day they are asked to decide, the risk is that they say Europe is a bad thing,” said Fabius.

Fabius said that one couldn't “join a football club and decide in the middle of the match we are now going to play rugby”.

Both France and Germany have repeatedly said they will resist any British attempt at full on treaty change but both Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have suggested they are willing to look at ways of creating a two speed Europe as they push for more integration in the eurozone.

The leaders are also set to discuss Europe's response to the refugee crisis, with the UK under pressure to take in more refugees than the 20,000 it says it will welcome over the next five years.

At a recent press conference, Hollande suggested the UK should take on more responsibility for the crisis if it wants to be able to persuade EU nations to back its reform plans.

During his visit to London Hollande will also officially open the new Lycée international school in north London.

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‘It’s time to talk up what Europe has brought UK’

As a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU looks set to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, the President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce in Paris, Bob Lewis appeals for the pro-European voices to be heard.

'It's time to talk up what Europe has brought UK'
it's time to talk up what Europe has done for Britain, says the president of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce in Paris. Photo: Flickr/Kelham Neelanraju

Britain in Europe – Make Europe Work!

(Bob Lewis – President of the FBCCI)

When David Cameron promised in January 2013 that should his party win a majority at the 2015 election, he would hold an in/out referendum on the UKs membership of the European Union by the end of 2017, I must admit many Brits working and living in France were asking me if they should take French citizenship. As the coalitions term rolled on, a  [Conservative] parliamentary majority looked unlikely and any promise of a referendum something of an empty one.

However, uncertainty about whether a referendum would ever take place did not deter those seeking to turn the debate on the UK in Europe negative.

Anti-European voices were heard loud and clear during the General Election campaign, from UKIP to the many other parties worried about a swing to UKIP in their constituencies. We all heard a great many anti-European messages as our social media feeds ran hot with the scare stories of how ruinous the EU is for Britain’s future.  

So whilst it seemed that few positive voices on the UK in the EU were heard during the election campaign, it also seemed that across the Channel politicians were unwilling to give a chance to David Camerons vision of a renegotiation of Britains role in the EU.  Pre General Election, everyone from François Hollande to Jean-Claude Juncker poured scorn on the very idea that Europes fundamentals could be unravelled by an unhappy bunch of Britons.

Events of May 7th have changed everything. A clear majority for David Camerons conservatives makes the referendum “la certainty”, and suddenly that deafening silence from Europe over the issue of reform seems to be abating. 

Give us a vote: we've got most to lose if UK quits

Only last week none other than Germanys Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Germany had a “huge interest” in the UK remaining a “strong and engaged” member of the EU. Germany and France hold general elections of their own in 2017, and the Conservatives have shown the way forward in winning a majority against the odds.  Maybe EU reform is a vote winner after all?

So now the planets seem to aligning, Id like to see and hear more voices from the Pro-European camp start to speak up for why the UK should be proud of its role in Europe, and recognise the part that Europe has played in recent economic successes.  It wont surprise anyone to learn that I am a proud European.

In my 30 year career on both sides of the Channel, I have seen first-hand how the UK has become a better place to do business, and how Britons in Europe have become more comfortable taking their place in an international environment.  Is it really such a bad thing that UK workers now have a minimum wage, longer holidays and paternity leave?

Have they stopped the British economy from continuing to grow? The common market has enabled Britain to attract many French skills, capital and know-how to help drive our economy.

I am proud of how many French business leaders I meet speak enviously of how the UK is showing a lead on job creation. I like hearing how the British economy is seen as a model for others in Europe to follow. This is influence at work.  We can do much more to have the type of Europe we want if we work from within than if we agitate for a clean break.

So I look forward to the Queens Speech as a moment to announce the referendum, I hope the Government will bring it forward if possible, and above all take advantage of David Camerons stock being so high right now to start making friends in Europe. Now is the time for measured diplomacy and making the EU work for the UK. In French, the phrase “brosser dans le sens du poil” (literally 'brush the hair in the right direction' but translated as 'cosy up to' or 'rub up the right way') sums it up perfectly.

Cameron can be a master of rubbing people up the wrong way, but he has a window of opportunity where he can make Europe work for Britain. If the British Government can hold its side of the bargain we will hear the positive voices grow louder and louder. I call on those positive voices to seize control of the debate over Europe. Lets start talking up all the great things Europe has brought the UK, and look forward to what the UK can continue to bring to our friends in Europe.

Bob Lewis is the President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the voice of Franco-British business in France. FOr more information on the FBCCI you can visit its website