Skip to main content

France-UK summit

Published on November 5, 2010
Joint press conference given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland¹

Paris, November 2, 2010

MR CAMERON – 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.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you David. It’s my turn to say how pleased the French delegation and I are to be guests of our British friends, how much we want to work hand in hand with you and how much we admire the courage and vision of David Cameron and his government.

All the conditions have been fulfilled for an absolutely outstanding relationship between Britain and France. Two permanent members of the Security Council, two nuclear powers, two high-performing defence industries and, between us, British and French, we account for half the defence budget of the whole of Europe. There’s compelling evidence of cooperation, friendship and trust between us.


We’ve decided to launch military nuclear cooperation. This is an unprecedented decision. It shows a level of trust between our two nations unequalled in history. So we’re going to share a modelling facility in France linked to our nuclear deterrent capabilities and a joint research centre.

We’ve signed a defence treaty which is going to allow us to develop a combined expeditionary force able to conduct high-intensity operations in the event of a crisis. I thank David Cameron for choosing to install catapults on the British aircraft carrier. This is going to allow us, and it’s very important, to deploy a genuinely integrated carrier strike group.

It’s an extremely important decision on the part of our British friends.
Unmanned air systems: other than the small tactical air systems, there is no European unmanned air system, that situation can’t go on. Today we’re starting work in order to have a future unmanned air surveillance system within ten years.

Industry: we’re going to develop a single Franco-British missiles sector with new missile programmes.

Cyber security: we’re going to develop cooperation in cyber security which is a major challenge.

The list is a long one, which is going to create new areas of interdependency – I accept this – with due regard for our sovereignty. And you know, my dear British friends, in France, sovereignty is just as crucial an issue as in Britain. But, together, we will be stronger.

Together, we will do better. Together we will defend our values more effectively. Moreover, the French and British governments have one thing in common: we consider that the security effort mustn’t be relaxed, regardless of whatever there may be in the way of constraints in other spheres in our dangerous world.

Let me add that at a time when it’s fashionable to say that Europe is experiencing a certain strategic contraction, well, we British and French are showing that this isn’t the case for us. Now, we each have our own ways of talking about Europe, I respect this and it’s quite normal. But all the same, the fact that Britain and France are uniting to this extent and placing their capabilities at the service of one and the same policy is historic, and, what’s more, it’s going to allow us to make a number of savings.

Naturally we’re doing this because we agree on the major international security issues. We’ll be going to the NATO summit with a shared vision of the Alliance’s future. I have always championed, in France, the idea that France’s place was at the heart of NATO, precisely in order to carry greater weight. And if this decision has brought the British and French closer together, so much the better. What are people waiting for? For us to be divided? Who will gain anything from that? Britain? France? Certainly not. We have common commitments, we will shoulder them together.


I’d also like, in front of the ministers, Christine Lagarde, Hervé Morin, Bernard Kouchner and Eric Besson, to welcome the other areas of cooperation. Immigration. Having had to manage Sangatte as Interior Minister, I welcome the fact that we’ve decided to have joint teams to fight that heinous trafficking based on human misery, bringing to Western Europe so many immigrants blinded by promises made by veritable modern slave traders.


I want to say too how happy I was with our cooperation, dear David, last weekend with Angela Merkel on the European budget. Who could understand us having to stabilize or cut our budgets and then going off to Brussels and voting for a 6% increase in the budget? And when David brought the matter up with us, we immediately said: “but of course, it’s quite obvious”.

And I set great store by the cooperation we’ll be having with David Cameron in the framework of the French G20 and G8 presidencies. We’re counting on involving Britain in our work, in our initiatives, working hand in hand, since we’re both convinced that at the dawn of this 21st century there’s a need for new ideas, that we won’t resolve the problems of the 21st century with the ideas of the 20th, that we must instigate and carry out these changes and need vision and great ambition.

Today, I’m very happy, with the British Prime Minister, to be able to say that contrary to appearances, the French and British watches are totally synchronized.

Thank you.


Q. – 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?

MR CAMERON – 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 recognizing 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?

THE PRESIDENT – If I’ve understood your question correctly, if the British Prime Minister, the British government decided to deploy its aircraft carrier, just think how serious a crisis that would be! To deploy the aircraft carrier! Do you honestly think that our British friends could be confronted with a crisis as important as one requiring deployment of an aircraft carrier without France feeling affected? What idea do you have of France?

Imagine the reverse: the French government decides to deploy a French aircraft carrier, because there’s a major crisis, wouldn’t that affect the British? Don’t we live in the same world? Aren’t we allies? Do you think that I imagine a great democratic country like Britain capable of having a government which deploys an aircraft carrier for fun?
I could avoid your question by saying that we’d see, we’d analyse the situation. No. You have to understand one thing: there are certainly loads of issues we disagree on, we aren’t the same and I’m well aware that there’s the Channel between us, but our values are the same and our interests shared.

Throughout my political life I have argued in favour of London and Paris coming closer together. It’s been a constant for me since I started out in politics, which in no way means that I’m forgetting the Paris-Berlin axis, and I’m delighted that Prime Minister David Cameron has invited Mrs Merkel to Chequers.

So if you, my British friends, were facing a major crisis, [can you imagine] France staying out of it, washing her hands of it, taking the view that it doesn’t affect her? But my first reaction would be to try and understand why such a close ally finds itself in such a serious crisis? And see how I could help it? No way does that prevent the British government’s decision being wholly sovereign or the French government’s decision being completely sovereign. But sovereignty doesn’t mean isolation. When you’re isolated, you’re no longer sovereign, you’re vulnerable.

If you want to make me say there’s friendship between France and Britain, yes I can confirm that. If that was the thrust of your question, I’ve got no doubt about that.

Now, after that, I believe there was a very short, slightly perfidious question… David Cameron and I agree on the increase in the global European budget being limited, of course. Does that mean that we absolutely agree on everything in it? Was that the question? No, we’re having discussions, we even talked about it, but we agreed on one thing: to talk about the problems in order to find solutions together and present them to you together.

I know perfectly well that the Common Agricultural Policy isn’t the most popular policy in Britain. And I’m going to let you into a secret: the British rebate isn’t what spontaneously endears the French people to Britain. Another reason for us to talk about it as allies, friends, responsible people. I’m clearly aware of Mr Cameron’s red lines, he’s clearly aware of the French government’s red lines. Within them, we’ve decided to talk about these things, and instead of seeing them as points of conflict, understand each other and propose common solutions. Isn’t this in the interest of both Britain and France? That’s what we decided. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make it clear.

Q. – 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?

MR CAMERON – 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 organization 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 recognizing what Britain and France can do together when we choose to do things together, and also recognizing 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.

Q. – 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.

MR CAMERON – 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.

THE PRESIDENT – You ask whether one can trust the French for the next 50 years. Start with the first five years, they are the only ones which count, afterwards you’ll see. As regards the nuclear issue, David Cameron and I have to look beyond the terms of office of our democratic governments. We have to think long term. Can you imagine the size of investment needed in the nuclear sphere? There are policy constants, regardless of opposition parties and left-wing, right-wing or liberal governments. There are constants. If we confine our thinking to the end of our own terms of office, where’s the vision? If General de Gaulle had reacted like that, France wouldn’t have had a nuclear programme.

Inevitably, we have thought beyond changes of government and political contingencies, placing our faith in common sense. France and Britain are neighbours and won’t change addresses. And whatever the political opinions of those who succeed us, they will confront the following reality: Britain is France’s closest neighbour; it’s a fact. You say: “the Americans have more aircraft carriers than you”. One could also say “so do the Russians”. We, British and French, are the only ones in Europe with aircraft carriers. Isn’t it intelligent, while there’s a British aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, for a French aircraft carrier to be in the Mediterranean? So Britain doesn’t have any interests in the Mediterranean? And France doesn’t have any in the Atlantic? Can’t you see the obvious sense in working together? Is it absolutely necessary in every crisis for us each to deploy our carrier strike group ignoring what the other is doing to ensure the British taxpayer pays twice and the French taxpayer pays twice? Do you think that in a number of crises where we have exactly the same view, it isn’t logical for us to deploy the same carrier strike group? And isn’t it an advantage, when French soldiers are deployed somewhere, that a British aircraft carrier is an allied aircraft carrier to which they can have access. And vice versa.
I’m convinced no one will go back on that choice. Finally, last point: we’re not talking about asking Mr Van Rompuy or Mr Barroso to lead the British armed forces or the French armed forces. No one thinks that. Moreover, who would ever do so? The idea is for the two great European military powers to put their efforts together, complete each other’s efforts. This benefits Britain, it benefits France and it benefits Europe. Yes, it benefits Europe too because when Britain succeeds, I’m going to tell you something, it’s a success for Europe. And when France succeeds, it’s a success for Europe. Personally, I’m pleased to come here and say this, as I’ve always been convinced that Europe has a deep need for Britain. And may I say that I think Britain needs Europe, just as France needs Europe. I have always championed that credo, and yet I’m no technocrat, I’m not in favour of bureaucracy and I can sometimes have frank discussions with a number of European authorities. That’s what I think and it’s our duty to act in this way. I believe it’s in everyone’s interest.


Q. – What’s your assessment of the terrorist threat hanging over Europe, France and Britain today, after the events and the various threats we’ve heard these past few days, particularly from al-Qaeda? And what can be done to stem this threat if you believe it’s growing? And, more particularly, President Sarkozy, what can you tell us about the letter bomb you were sent, and have you recently personally received any other similar threats, a letter bomb or anything else?

MR CAMERON – 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.

THE PRESIDENT – I’ve no comment on the parcel bombs. There’s very good communication between the Greek and French police. I’ve nothing to say and have no intention of giving publicity to people acting in this way. On the threat, as David Cameron said, it’s extremely serious.

We’re vigilant about absolutely everything. We’re working with our allies, I wouldn’t even say “daily” but “hourly”, we’re exchanging information, comparing our intelligence and trying to harmonize our responses. I myself will be holding a meeting of security officials tomorrow, Wednesday, in Paris. Thank you.

MR CAMERON – Thank you very much indeed. We will now go onto another area where you can cooperate, which is lunch.

Thank you./.

¹ Source of Mr Cameron’s statements and questions in English: 10 Downing Street.

      top of the page