War of words with Britain on veto over, says France

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One of the most senior members of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has moved to calm tensions between the UK and France following the war of words sparked by David Cameron’s use of Britain’s veto to block an EU treaty.

Foreign minister Alain Juppe said that he had “not an ounce of doubt” that Anglo-French relations would soon be excellent again.

President Sarkozy was reported to have branded the Prime Minister an “obstinate kid” for using his veto when he was unable to secure safeguards for the City of London at a Brussels summit earlier this month.

And the diplomatic spat was heightened when Mr Sarkozy’s finance minister Francois Baroin said he would rather be French than British economically, and Banque de France governor Christian Noyer suggested that the UK, rather than France, should lose its cherished triple-A credit rating.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Juppe denied that there had been a concerted effort by Mr Sarkozy’s government to stoke up tensions with London.

The comments “went further than their authors wished” but there was “no need for excuses on either side”, he said.

“There is not an ounce of doubt that Franco-British relations, that will become excellent once again as we have too much in common to allow them to deteriorate,” said Mr Juppe.

“I don’t think the bridges are broken. I cannot imagine that we will push Britain out of the European Union.”

Mr Juppe said that France could not accept Mr Cameron’s demands for exemptions from EU regulations for the City of London as his price for signing the new treaty, which was designed to impose new fiscal disciplines on the eurozone.

“Sometimes you have to say no,” he said. “We did. And we did it without making a drama of it.”

The French foreign minister acknowledged that London and Paris “don’t have the same concept of European evolution”, with Britain seeing the EU as a large market while France believes that the current crisis requires the development of common economic policies in the eurozone. But he insisted that the Franco-British summit, postponed this month because of the urgency of the crisis in the single currency, will go ahead in February and will mark a further stage in cross-Channel co-operation on military and nuclear matters.

Mr Juppe’s comments came as a new poll suggested that Britain’s business community backed Mr Cameron’s decision to use the veto, which resulted in the other 26 EU nations beginning negotiations on a separate agreement excluding the UK.

Of more than 1,000 business leaders questioned by the Institute of Directors (IoD), more than three-quarters said the PM was right to refuse to sign up to the treaty, compared to just 19 per cent who disagreed.

However there were signs of some concern over the possible repercussions of the move for the UK. Some 77 per cent said that the use of the veto has changed Britain’s relationship with the EU, and of those, 53 per cent said the change would be negative and 33 per cent positive for the UK.

A large majority (85 per cent) of those questioned thought that the measures agreed at the summit will fail to solve the eurozone crisis, compared with just three per cent who think they will succeed.

More than four out of 10 said the sovereign debt crisis in the euro area was affecting their companies, compared to 53 per cent who said it was not. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) said they would like to see the UK in a looser relationship with the EU, including 42 per cent who want a repatriation of some powers. Some 21 per cent want the UK to withdraw from the EU while retaining free trade agreements, and one per cent would like Britain to leave Europe altogether.

Graeme Leach, director of policy at the IoD, said: “The UK’s relationship with Europe is dominated by political and economic uncertainty but the business verdict is very clear.

“Almost two-thirds of IoD members want to see a looser relationship with the EU.”