Cameron and Hollande: Vive la difference?

Suggestions of a rift between the two leaders were played down

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Downing Street would not say whether drinks and canapes would be on offer when David Cameron welcomes Francois Hollande to the British ambassador's residence in Washington on Friday evening.

Humble pie might perhaps be appropriate after he snubbed Mr Hollande on his visit to London earlier this year and broke protocol to give his backing to the man now ousted from the Elysee Palace, Nicholas Sarkozy.

Number Ten have dismissed suggestions of a personal and political rift, insisting their conference call discussions yesterday were constructive and polite.

The prime minister has also been playing down their differences on economic policy, pointing to Mr Hollande's comments that he was not planning to increase public spending to stimulate the French economy.

On GMTV on Friday morning, Mr Cameron said the new French President's target for balancing his budget was faster than the UK's plan.

Real drama

The new focus is on growth, with the British prime minister insisting his deficit reduction strategy is an essential part of a wider growth plan.

Downing Street say Mr Hollande's proposal for a "Growth Pact" contains many measures that are similar to those already being introduced by the coalition in the UK such as credit easing, mortgage indemnities and bringing forward structural funds.

There are real differences.

Mr Hollande wants an EU tax on financial transactions - David Cameron has rejected the idea, warning that it would do huge damage to the City of London unless it is part of a global scheme.

The new French president wants to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013 - Mr Cameron wants to stick to the Nato timetable of a withdrawal a year later.

The French President is also keen on a European defence initiative - the UK prime minister is opposed to anything that could undermine Nato.

The two men come from very different political traditions, the Socialist President is planning a 75% top income tax rate while the Conservative prime minister has just cut the UK's top rate.

But both leaders are well aware that the scale of the problems besetting the eurozone requires them to work together.

The G8 gathering, which gets underway later, will be an intimate affair with few officials present at Friday evening's dinner and further opportunities for informal discussions in the extensive grounds of Camp David. Such occasions tend to result in warm words.

The relationship between Britain and France is important, but it is a sideshow to the real drama unfolding across Europe.

The key test for this summit is whether it can result in action to tackle the crisis in the eurozone.

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