London, March 12, 2010
FRANCE/UK/GORDON BROWN/IRAN/REGULATING CAPITALISM/CLIMATE CHANGE/DEFORESTATION/AFRICA
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you Gordon. I in turn am very happy to be here once again. I haven’t changed since my 2008 visit: I believe in the relevance of agreement between Britain and France to get Europe to take action, and the world, which has such need of reforms, to act.
In Gordon Brown I have always found a convinced and convincing reformer. And together we tried to give the right answers when the financial and economic crisis almost blew the world away. I’m in no way ignoring the differences between us. He’s British, I’m French. He’s a socialist, I’m not. That’s less serious. And, at the same time, I owe you the truth: we’ve always worked in partnership and in an atmosphere of trust. Heaven knows we have had tough tasks to confront: Lisbon, the Treaty, the crisis, regulating capitalism and regulating commodity prices. Personally, it’s been a pleasure to spend all this time working with Gordon. And, moreover, I shall have the honour of chairing the G20 and G8 next November. Who proposed my and France’s candidature? He did. I haven’t forgotten. Let me tell you the absolute truth: I don’t think either of us has ever had the slightest hidden agenda, simply a determination to get things moving. When I had ideas about moving things along, I talked to Gordon about them, and he did the same. That doesn’t mean that we agree on everything. Personally, I’m convinced that our British friends’ place is in Europe, because we need you, you bring us a lot and this is very important.
Personally, it isn’t for me to indulge in politics in Britain, that would be wholly out of place – nor would Gordon do that in France – since it seems you are going to have an election. So there was a big debate: should I come before the election? It was the same in France: people asked me “do you have to go?” If you mustn’t come before an election or just after either, because people need time to get their portfolios, you’d never come! Personally, on the contrary, I thought it was very important to be here.
We have worked together. On Iran, we’ve got exactly the same position, a firm position; what’s happening is unacceptable. On regulating capitalism, we mustn’t halt the reforms on the grounds that we seem to be emerging from the crisis. Quite the contrary. We’re emerging from the crisis precisely because we’ve started reforms, regulating. Above all we mustn’t stop, we have to go on and check that what we, heads of government and heads of State, are saying is actually being done. This is very precisely what we’re going to do together to prepare the future French presidency of the G20 and G8. When I’ve talked to Mr Obama or other heads of State, I report back to Gordon Brown, and he keeps me in the picture regarding his own contacts. We try to exchange things. It’s totally normal – otherwise it’s not worth building Europe. This is how things happen.
It was also very important for me to come here to discuss the climate change issue, the fight against deforestation – concerns of Gordon’s which I share – and the effort we’ve got to make to develop Africa; here too, as I said in Rwanda recently, there’s no harking back to an erstwhile rivalry between Britain and France. Because we share the same values and agree, that would be pointless, yes, I’m convinced of this, pointless. I always find my conversations with Gordon Brown and his team extremely rewarding.
If there were questions, I’d of course be very willing to answer them.
TANKER AIRCRAFT CONTRACT
Q. – Do both of you believe that you can reach an agreement on regulating hedge funds in Europe between now and Tuesday? Second point: the refuelling aircraft dossier, Mr President, do you think this is a matter that is over and done with? What are you going to say to President Obama when you see him?¹
THE PRESIDENT – First of all on the refuelling aircraft. I confess that I didn’t appreciate this decision. Let me explain: Gordon Brown and I are against protectionism and are allies of the United States of America. I remind you: a call for tender was issued for this contract. The contract was won by a European company in partnership with a US company. Then the contract was cancelled. Then a new specification – and the least one can say about it is that it wasn’t unfavourable to Boeing – was put on the table. And now I learn that even before the second competition takes place, our US partner – I mean EADS’ partner – is to pull out of the competition. That way, we know exactly where we are! If the competition takes place with just one competitor, we don’t have to think too hard about who’s going to win the medal. This isn’t how to do things! It isn’t good for the United States’ European allies or the United States itself, which is a great nation and leader. We are close to and friends with the Americans and are fighting protectionism with them. And if they want to be heeded in the battle against protection, they shouldn’t be setting an example of protectionism. You know, in life, there’s what you say and then there’s what you do.
And then the hedge funds, Gordon Brown and I talked about them. Personally, I’ve always thought that these offshore hedge funds bore a very heavy responsibility in the financial crisis and needed to be regulated. In fact Gordon Brown always shared my opinion on this.
Also when it comes to the British Prime Minister’s wish to defend the City’s interests, if he didn’t, people would say “but what are you doing?! Likewise, I want to defend the interests of the French economy. So we and our teams are working to find the balanced position allowing us to regulate, ensure transparency, avoid systemic risks and at the same time make sure that the City, which is an asset for Europe, doesn’t feel itself endangered. That very precisely is the position we’re trying to find. Have we already found it? No, but it wasn’t something we could do during our lunch. We’ve got collaborators, teams and finance ministers who are going to get down to the job.
INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL TRANSACTION LEVY
Q. – I wasn’t quite clear from your opening remarks whether you had reached complete agreement on the question of a global bank tax, international bank levy – and whether you’ve agreed not just the principle, but also the details of such a levy. And to the President, could I ask, will you be urging David Cameron to rejoin the European People’s party and to drop suggestions that, if he was in power, he might take Britain out of the European Defence Agency?¹
THE PRESIDENT – Frankly, it’s better to have global regulation if you want a level playing field for competition. Secondly, like Gordon, in the context of innovative financing I believe in taxing financial transactions. I believe in the need for the “fast start” and to deliver the Millennium Development Goals. And regrettably we can’t do this just out of our budgets, which are all in deficit. So there needs to be innovative financing and, of course, the more global this is, the fewer the risks of protectionism and unfair competition. On top of that, we all have to make an effort to move towards each other, because I believe Gordon has officially suggested a levy on shipping. We were more in favour of a financial levy, but we can discuss this. But what’s indisputable is that the more global these levies are, the less thwarted, and so better, the competition between us will be – at all events in a regulated world where freedom of trade has to remain the rule.
Q. – And the questions on Mr Cameron…
THE PRESIDENT – Here too, I don’t want to meddle in the political debate, but if you want to make me say that I’d have preferred him to stay in the PPE, my answer is yes. Because the PPE are great people, even though I’ve a lot of pleasure in working with the Labour Prime Minister, the PPE is a good organization. I myself, a long time ago, got my own party – at the time the Gaullists – to join the PPE, and I think having major modernized groups in which everyone’s particularly specific ideas are subsumed in order to achieve political clarity is absolutely in Europe’s interest. Yes, I was sorry he did it. Now, it’s his decision not mine, I’ve already got all my own problems to resolve. But at all events, being open to others is good.
Q. – Did you discuss the German proposal for a European monetary fund? What form would it take? Is the aim really to create it or to put obstacles in the way of the IMF? Should the United Kingdom be part of it? And a question for President Sarkozy: the British press has reported rumours on your private life, do you intend responding?
THE PRESIDENT – On the European monetary fund: first of all, on principle I never reject any idea out of hand, because it’s always extremely interesting to discuss these things. I explained to Gordon Brown that when you are in the Euro Area you have to show solidarity with those with the same currency as you. I’ve got nothing against the IMF. When I held the European Council presidency, I asked for $25 billion for Hungary who didn’t belong to the Euro Area, and this isn’t the same thing at all. So I see that every day there’s a new idea; at some point we’re going to have to get round the table and mull this over.
PRESIDENT’S PRIVATE LIFE
As for the rest, you must be unaware of how a president of the Republic spends his time! I haven’t got a second, not even half a second, to waste on these fantasies. I don’t even know why you’re using your speaking time to ask such a question
I love Britain, don’t make me regret it! (…)./.
¹ Source of questions put in English: 10 Downing Street website