What does France and Britain's drone deal mean for their security relationship?

Christophe Ena/AP
French President François Hollande (r.) and British Prime Minister David Cameron shake hands after a press conference in Amiens, northern France, on Thursday.

A meeting between top French and British officials Thursday cemented the two nations’ security relationship and examined the possible United Kingdom exit from the European Union.

French President François Hollande and UK Prime Minister David Cameron held a bi-annual international summit in the town of Amiens in northern France, where the two leaders discussed their countries’ relationship and commemorated the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

The two nations agreed to a $2.11 billion drone development program and discussed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, all with an aim of solidifying the French and British military relationship.

The drones “will be the most advanced of [their] kind in Europe,” Mr. Cameron said, adding that their development and construction will create significant numbers of jobs in both Britain and France.

BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Dassault Aviation, Safran, and Thales will all be involved, and the two countries will devote identical resources to the Future Combat Air System.

The drones will be ready for testing in a few years and will be operational in the 2020s, announced Cameron and President Hollande.

The summit also addressed the countries' joint efforts against the so-called Islamic State (IS) forces in Iraq and Syria.

Hollande and Cameron both support Syrian opposition fighters involved in the civil war there, and they reiterated their concerns about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing operations against rebel groups despite a ceasefire.

“We are putting pressure on all the players so that the bombings don't start again and that there is a real negotiation in which the opposition has its place,” Hollande said, referring to interrupted peace talks that are set to resume within the week.

The leaders also expressed concerns that Moscow could support the Syrian government despite the established truce.

“We need Russia to understand that there is an opposition that should not be confused with Islamic State,” said Hollande.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are set to join Hollande and Cameron for a conference call tomorrow regarding issues facing Europe, including the Syrian crisis and the regional migration situation.

The president and prime minister also expressed their opposition to a British exit from the EU at the meeting. Hollande said the “Brexit” would leave all sides worse off.

“I don’t want to scare you, but I just want to say the truth,” Hollande said, per The Guardian. “There will be consequences in many areas: on the single market, on financial trade, on economic development between our two countries.

“Now that doesn’t mean that everything will be destroyed, I don’t want to give you a catastrophic scenario. But there will be consequences – especially in terms of people as well,” he said.

Cameron agreed.

“When it comes to terrorism, when it comes to security, when it comes to our borders, we are better off, we are stronger inside a reformed EU,” he said.

Bernard Jenkin, a British politician in support of the exit campaign, disagreed with the leaders’ assessment.

“I don't think responsible European governments are going to cut off their noses to spite their faces just because we vote to leave the EU,” Jenkin said. “It is obviously the safer thing for the UK to take back control over our borders, over our laws, over the money we send to the EU because then we can control our relations with our European partners.”

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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