Analysis: France - United Kingdom

Forget the red carpet - can Cameron and Hollande be friends?

Reuters/Olivia Harris

Is it kiss-and-make-up time for David Cameron and François Hollande as the French president pays his first visit to the British prime minister on Tuesday? Will Hollande forgive Cameron’s offer to “roll out the red carpet” for French millionaires fleeing the new Socialist government’s tax plans and the UK PM’s refusal to meet him when he was a presidential candidate?


Hollande visited Cameron at the British prime minister’s London residence in Downing

Street before a private meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.

The meeting with the queen should go pretty smoothly – there won’t even be a translator since Her Majesty speaks French – although Hollande’s partner Valérie Trierweiler will not be present.

But the talk may have been tougher at Downing Street.

Shortly after meeting Hollande in May in Washington, Cameron, a Conservative who has just cut the UK’s top-rate tax, mocked the new French government’s plan to reintroduce a 75 per cent tax rate for incomes over one million euros.

He would “roll out the red carpet” for tax exiles, he said, and “welcome more French businesses to Britain”, adding that their taxes would pay for the UK’s health service, education and “everything else”.

While European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve shrugged the remark off as “British humour” other ministers were less laid-back about a foreign leader commenting on domestic French policy. In private they took to referring to Cameron as “Red Carpet”.

Even before Hollande was elected, Cameron snubbed him.

Like the other leaders of the European Union’s leading states, the British PM did not meet Hollande when he visited his country during the presidential campaign in an apparent gesture of solidarity with fellow right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy. The snub did not prevent Hollande going on to defeat the incumbent.

Not that Cameron and Sarkozy always got on like a house on fire.

Last October Sarkozy advised Cameron to “shut up” during talks over the euro and there was a cross-channel exchange of polemical fire in December over who was the most indebted.

And Cameron has resolutely fought European plans for a financial transactions tax.

In November that gave him the chance to practice his comedy skills when, in the apparent belief that financial services are an essential part of the British diet, he told the House of Commons that he was “sometimes tempted to ask the French whether they would like a cheese tax”.

Downing Street said that Tuesday’s talks would focus on the economy, so that difference may have resurfaced.

And, with Eurosceptics in his own party breathing down his neck, Cameron was expected to warn Hollande that he will block new governance arrangements for the eurozone if Britain is not allowed to renegotiate its relationship with Brussels.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

He’s especially worried about moves towards fiscal union within the eurozone, believing that it could cut non-euro countries out of the European Union’s single market.

Hollande was also expected to raise defence cooperation.

Deals signed during Sarkozy’s term in office foresaw closer collaboration between the two countries’ militaries.

But the British government recently ordered fighter planes that are not compatible with France’s Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, scuppering an important part of the project.

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