Hollande Warns Britain About Its Demands on E.U.

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BRUSSELS -- President François Hollande of France told the European Parliament on Tuesday that countries like Britain were on a dangerous path that other members of the European Union might not accept and suggested that their demands could even jeopardize the bloc.

The Union, said Mr. Hollande, is more than a marketplace, as the British sometimes see it, and he said France would oppose British proposals for deep cuts to the bloc's communal budget at a summit meeting this week.

Making his first appearance as French head of state at the Parliament, in Strasbourg, Mr. Hollande sketched a vision of the Union's future that is radically different than that of David Cameron, the British prime minister, who said last month that his country wanted to continue its free-trade relationship with the bloc -- but shield it from Union rules in areas like finance and justice.

Mr. Hollande did not identify Britain or Mr. Cameron during his speech in Strasbourg. But Mr. Hollande said an "à la carte" approach to Europe was wrong in what was a thinly veiled reference to the position of the British leader, who last month demanded changes to the Union's treaty and promised a British referendum on whether to remain inside the bloc. Instead, Mr. Hollande pleaded for a less confrontational approach from discontented members like Britain.

"A Europe with differences is a Europe where states -- not always the same ones -- decide to go ahead, take on new projects, unblock funds, harmonize their policies and to go beyond the base of common competences that we've created and that must remain intact."

Mr. Hollande also warned in his speech that Europe faced "no longer the risk of indifference, but detachment, even a split."

In a news conference later, Mr. Hollande said that Mr. Cameron had the sovereign right to call a referendum on membership but that the British leader had a different vision of Europe.

"My conception of Europe is not to call into question the gains" derived from membership in the Union but to emphasize the "construction of Europe," Mr. Hollande said.

The next major challenge for the Union -- and for relations between big members like France and Britain -- gets under way on Thursday when the Union's 27 leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit meeting that is aimed at delivering a seven-year budget worth about €1 trillion, or $1.36 trillion, for the period from 2014 to 2020.

A failure to reach a deal would be an embarrassment for the Union, which already spent much of the past two years in summit meeting after summit meeting seeking to keep the euro currency union intact. The previous attempt in November failed after net contributor countries like Britain, Germany and Sweden were at loggerheads with net recipient countries like Poland, Lithuania and Spain over the size of the budget.

A failure to reach a deal this week could also make it hard to agree until 2015 on a long-term budget, after elections in Germany in September and in 2014 for the European Parliament, whose approval is also required for the plan.

Mr. Hollande said he was prepared to compromise to reach a deal this week. But he staunchly defended farm subsidies cherished by French growers and warned that cutting too deeply into other areas, like infrastructure funds, would jeopardize growth and face stiff opposition from other countries.

It is necessary "to reason with those who want to amputate the E.U. budget beyond what it was possible to accept," he warned. Answering questions from members of Parliament, Mr. Hollande took direct aim at Britain, asking, "Why should one country be able to decide in the place of 26 others?"

Mr. Cameron has called for wide-ranging cuts and reducing a proposed budget of €973 billion for the period from 2014 to 2020.

In a statement on Tuesday, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, the body that is organizing the summit meeting, said he wanted "final negotiations" on the budget to begin on Thursday. But he warned that the negotiations could be long and rancorous.

"Budget talks are always difficult, lengthy and can look messy from the outside -- and sometimes even from the inside," Mr. Van Rompuy said. "It happens that we get so absorbed by small details during the negotiations that the bigger picture gets lost."

He added that agreement would help tackle youth unemployment and bolster research and job creation.

Mr. Van Rompuy also promised to deliver the first budget delivering "a real terms cut" compared with the previous seven-year budget.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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