French President Hollande prepares for tough EU summit

A November summit ended in failure when Britain led opposition against proposals for a new seven-year EU budget, which represents less that 2 percent of the 27-nation gross domestic product.

Christian Lutz/AP
French president Francois Hollande gestures during apress conference at the European Parliament Tuesday, in Strasbourg, eastern France. Hollande warns of a tough European Union summit later this week if countries including Britain continue to demand drastic cuts to the EU budget while refusing to make concessions themselves.

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday warned British Prime Minister David Cameron not to hijack this week's European Union summit with excessive demands on cuts in the European Union budget while refusing to make concessions themselves.

In his address to the European Parliament, Hollande said the 2014-2020 EU budget of some €1 trillion ($1.35 trillion) was open to some savings but insisted the leaders at Thursday's summit should not compromise innovation and shared sectors like farming.

A November summit ended in failure when Britain led opposition against proposals for a new seven-year EU budget, which represents less that 2 percent of the 27-nation gross domestic product. The breakup was seen in Britain as a show of Cameron resolve in the face of thrifty EU nations.

"I have been told a solution cannot happen with Britain. But why should one country decide for 26 others? Indeed we could have agreed at the last European summit," Hollande said. "In order to let people say that this failure was a victory, we let it happen."

In several remarks that could be seen as targeting Cameron, who is the biggest proponent of drastic savings in the EU budget while insisting on keeping existing concessions, Hollande said "there are those who want to see cuts, others — possibly the same, who want guarantees on their own rebate."

Hollande also chided Cameron for a recent speech where he pledged to renegotiate its relations with the EU and questioned the fundamental philosophy of the EU. Cameron also said that if his party wins the next parliamentary election, he would offer citizens a vote on whether to leave the EU.

The French president said the EU was "a project where we cannot keep on arguing about what is already there and calling everything into question at every step." He said it was "a commitment in which everyone accepts the balancing out of rights and obligations, where the rules are abided by, where confidence creates solidarity."

Thursday will mark the first summit meeting since Cameron's Jan. 23 speech on Europe.

Hollande did foresee a Europe where some core nations could leave others behind and forge ahead on specific issues — much like had been done with the euro, where 17 nations now share the single currency. It did not mean already existing standards could be undermined, he said.

"It is a Europe where states decide to go forward, not necessarily always the same, to enter in new projects to harmonize their policies beyond the basic cornerstones which must be our shared competence," Hollande said.

Hollande did, however, applaud Cameron for his support for France's intervention in Mali, where French and Malian troops are reclaiming vast areas from jihadists and other rebel groups.

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