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Anglo-French summit puts EU reform differences on display

Source: Reuters - Fri, 31 Jan 2014 15:44 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Disagreement over EU reform at Anglo-French summit

* Hollande wary of treaty change, Cameron wants reform

* Defence, energy and technology deals signed

By William James

LONDON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Anglo-French differences over European Union reform were laid bare at a summit on Friday when British Prime Minister David Cameron called for urgent treaty change while French President Hollande said such a move was not a priority.

The first summit between the two since Hollande won power in May 2012 announced joint investment in the latest phase of a combat drone scheme, cooperation on civil nuclear power research and an agreement on space and satellite technology.

But their warm words on strengthening cooperation were soon overshadowed by the prickly subject of European Union reform, a long-standing bone of contention between the two countries.

Standing alongside Hollande inside a vast British aircraft hanger, Cameron set out his long-held position on the need for sweeping reforms to make Europe more open, flexible and competitive.

"My position absolutely remains that we want to see those changes, we want to see that renegotiation, that renegotiation will involve elements of treaty change," he said.

However Hollande said treaty change was not a priority for France.

"If there are going to be changes to the text, we don't feel that for the time being they are urgent. We feel that revising the treaty is not a priority," he said.

Cameron wants sweeping reforms in the EU to make the trade bloc more efficient and hopes his agenda will both persuade eurosceptic voters to back him at a 2015 election and quell dissent within his party.

He has promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership by the end of 2017 and wants to have agreed reforms by then.

But on Friday, Hollande firmly resisted any changes to the treaties that could be interpreted as pandering to Britain's domestic political agenda.

"Britain's choice cannot weigh on all of Europe... France wants the euro zone to be better coordinated and better integrated. If the texts (of treaties) are to be changed, that to us is not a urgent matter," he said

DRONE DEVELOPMENT

The official focus of the summit was on defence, where a 120 million pound ($198 million) feasibility study into the technology behind an Anglo-French combat drone project was unveiled. The leaders are due to inspect a prototype of the drone at the summit venue, a military airfield.

No decisions were announced on which companies would be involved in the study.

The focus on defence stems from a 2010 Anglo-French pact that paved the way for a joint defence force as well as collaboration on drones and other military technology development.

Friday's summit also sealed a 500 million pound joint purchase of anti-ship missiles developed by MBDA, a consortium of BAE Systems, Airbus Group and Italy's Finmeccanica.

An agreement was also signed to allow the early delivery of two Airbus A400M transporter planes to Britain.

A number of collaborations on satellite technology were also announced alongside a programme for sharing research on civil nuclear power.

That scheme will include steps to involve small and medium sized British firms in the production of a nuclear power plant by French firm EDF at Hinkley point in Western England, the British officials said.

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