France's Hollande rejects 'a la carte' attitude to EU

Francois Hollande: "Europe... is first and foremost a political will"

French President Francois Hollande has told the European Parliament there can be no "a la carte" attitude to the EU, as tough budget talks approach.

He called for a "multi-faceted Europe which would be neither a two-speed Europe nor an a la carte Europe".

National interests, he said in Strasbourg, risked taking precedence over the interests of the EU.

His remarks were aimed at UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the BBC's Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, reports.

Mr Cameron announced last month that a referendum would be held on EU membership if his Conservative Party was returned to power at the next general election, expected in 2015.

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If there is a fight, the French finger of accusation seems to be already pointing at Britain”

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Voters would be asked to choose between a renegotiated form of membership, and exiting.

Mr Hollande's Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, commented at the time: "We want the British to be able to bring all their positive characteristics to Europe... but you can't do Europe a la carte."

The French president's speech comes two days before a summit on the EU's seven-year budget, which is likely to be marked by sharp differences between the leaders.

The UK is pushing for a spending freeze while most other EU members want either to maintain or increase the proposed budget.

'Endless austerity'

Setting out French priorities, Mr Hollande called for

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The threat we face now is no longer the mistrust of the markets but that of the peoples”

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  • "a level of spending that preserves common policies"
  • "a cohesion policy not just for beneficiary countries but for the whole of Europe"
  • "an agricultural policy that permits a precious industry to be sustained" and "the environment to be respected"
  • "a financial framework that should prolong the growth pact"

"Yes to making cuts but no to weakening the economy," he said, rejecting "endless austerity".

Elected last year on a pro-growth platform, the Socialist president was making his first speech as France's head of state to the European Parliament.

"National interest is overtaking the European interest," he said.

"If it is true that the eurozone crisis is now largely behind us, we are far from drawing all the consequences. The threat we face now is no longer the mistrust of the markets but that of the peoples."

Strasbourg

Mr Hollande warned that Europe was leaving the euro vulnerable to "irrational developments".

"A monetary zone must have an exchange rate policy or else it ends up subjected to an exchange rate that does not match the true state of its economy," he said.

There is growing concern within France's Socialist government that the euro is too strong, potentially undermining exporters and wider economic growth.

President Hollande: Europe must 'act now in favour of peace... and security'

Mr Hollande called on member-states with strong export economies to stimulate internal demand to create a fairer balance. His remark puts pressure on Germany, the EU's biggest exporter, our Europe editor notes.

On France's military operation in the west African state of Mali, Mr Hollande said: "Europe must do its bit in the fight for democracy and human dignity - that is why I decided to intervene in Mali."

Members of the European Parliament later questioned the French leader.

In a speech, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who now heads the parliament's liberal bloc, called on France to consider making savings by agreeing to have the European Parliament sit permanently in Brussels.

The chamber currently divides its sessions between the Belgian capital and Strasbourg, in north-eastern France. The arrangement is fixed in an EU treaty.

"I defend Strasbourg as capital of Europe because history reminds us of Strasbourg's role," Mr Hollande replied, referring to France's former border dispute with Germany.

It is believed that having a single seat for the parliament would achieve annual savings of some 180m euros (£156m; $245m).

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