France's Hollande, UK's Cameron downplay euro row

AFP , Tuesday 10 Jul 2012

French President Francois Hollande and British PM David Cameron stresses their similarities regarding foreign policy issues including Syria despite the eurozone disagreements

France's new President Francois Hollande, right, gestures as he speaks to the media during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday July 10, 2012. (Photo: AP)

French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to press the reset button on relations Tuesday despite disagreements on how to tackle the eurozone crisis.

As Hollande made his first official visit to Britain, the leaders of the nuclear armed NATO allies stressed their similarities on foreign policy issues including Syria, and made light of earlier rows over economic policy and tax.

Hollande, who was to meet Queen Elizabeth II after his talks with Cameron, joked about "British humour" when asked about the British premier's recent comment that he would "roll out the red carpet" for French tax exiles.

The socialist president said he understood Britain wanted to remain outside the euro, telling a joint press conference with Cameron: "We can see Europe as having different speeds, with each taking what it wants from the union."

Hollande also downplayed the Conservative prime minister's apparent snub when he made an election campaign visit to London in February. Cameron meanwhile welcomed Hollande in French at the press conference, which followed talks and a working lunch at the British premier's official residence, 10 Downing Street.

"There will always be areas where we don't agree, but we've found much common ground today, not just about European common policy today but about how we develop European common policy in future," Cameron said.

Cameron said Britain "wants the euro area to have a strong and stable currency" and said he and Hollande agreed the steps made in Brussels by European Union leaders last month to tackle the single currency's debt crisis.

The French leader said Paris and London had "converging views" on key foreign policy issues such as Syria, and said they would be pushing Russia and China to back tougher action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The warm welcome for Hollande, including a guard of honour at the Foreign Office with lines of soldiers in bearskin hats and red tunics, came after months of frosty relations between the French and British leaders.

Economic issues have been the greatest stumbling block, underlining the ideological differences between Cameron's focus on austerity and Hollande's commitment to boosting growth through spending.

Since Hollande defeated right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in May, he has quickly moved to cement his left-wing credentials, boosting taxes on the rich, vowing to create thousands of public-sector jobs and allowing for slight spending increases.

Cameron continues to urge members of the eurozone -- of which Britain is not a part -- to cut spending and take action to resolve the economic crisis that is severely affecting his country's economy.

He has refused to back the European fiscal discipline pact, which he fears may compromise the City of London's position as Europe's leading financial centre. He has also regularly voiced his fierce opposition to a financial transactions tax advocated by Paris.

At the G20 in Mexico last month, Cameron then riled the French when he said he would "roll out the red carpet" for any French high earners fleeing Hollande's plan to impose a 75 percent tax rate on top salaries.

The two leaders largely sidestepped the issues in their press conference, with Hollande also softening his tone on a proposed hike in the levy on foreign-owned second homes, which raised hackles in Britain.

They also stressed their commitment to defence, after signing pacts in 2010 under which they would pool resources including their aircraft carriers. Hollande was heading to Windsor Castle outside London for a half-hour meeting with the queen after the talks with Cameron. Officials said the monarch would be speaking French during the encounter.

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