[Blog] The Franco-British summit 2014

François Hollande and David Cameron at the Swann Inn in Swinbrook

London, 10 February 2014

It was a delightful Cotswold village in the heart of David Cameron’s constituency that played host to the closing stages of the 2014 Franco-British summit. It may well have been the UK’s wettest January since records began – and indeed we have seen flooding on both sides of the Channel in recent weeks – but the atmosphere was warm and convivial inside the Swan Inn in Swinbrook when François Hollande and David Cameron stopped there for lunch just over a week ago.

The outside world had questioned Mr Cameron’s choice of venue, and there was no small amount of media speculation over what the two leaders would have to drink. However the reality – for those privileged enough to be inside the Swan Inn – was that this friendly country pub served as a perfect place to conclude a historic day for Franco-British cooperation. It is safe to say that they both enjoyed the beer too!

President Hollande and Prime Minister Cameron had spent the morning at nearby RAF Brize Norton, a setting very different from the cosy charm of the Swan Inn but equally symbolic of the relationship between our two countries. During the Second World War, RAF Brize Norton was used as a base for successful D-Day operations, as well as for operations engaged in dropping personnel and supplies to the resistance movements in Europe. Today, the airbase showcases the strength and depth of Franco-British cooperation on defence, from British logistical support of the French mission in the Central African Republic and in Mali previously, to the joint development of new aircraft for the future.

So it was fitting that Brize Norton played host to the signing of some major new defence agreements, which built on the close ties established with the signing of the Lancaster House treaties in 2010. As two countries of a similar size and global standing, which today face the same security threats, it makes perfect strategic and commercial sense for France and the UK to work together in order to ensure the safety of their own citizens and protect peace and security around the world. Very few countries share the trust needed to collaborate on something as important and sensitive as defence, so it is a testimony to the relationship between France and the UK that we are able to do so. In the same spirit of partnership, Foreign Ministers Laurent Fabius and William Hague discussed the most pressing foreign affairs issues, from the crisis in Syria and the nuclear deal with Iran, to the situation in Ukraine and peacekeeping efforts in the Central African Republic.

It wasn’t just Defence Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Philip Hammond who were busy concluding agreements. A joint declaration on nuclear power was also issued by French Energy and Climate Change Minister Philippe Martin and his UK counterpart Edward Davey. It will help develop a nuclear supply chain, facilitate the involvement of SMEs, and contribute to the joint development of world class nuclear skills in France and the UK. This will be all the more important as the huge investment EDF is making at Hinkley Point in Somerset materializes. Franco-British cooperation is not only about defence: it is also about powering homes and our economy.

Thirdly, the summit saw the signing, under the auspices of Geneviève Fioraso and David Willetts, of Britain and France’s first entente spatiale. This agreement will see the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and the UK Space Agency collaborate on a broad range of activities including earth observation, telecommunications satellites and space technology. Together, France and the UK are delving deeper into the realms of space in order to enhance our understanding of the Earth – and, with our combined expertise and vision, I look forward to seeing what we will be able to achieve in the future.

If I had to describe last week’s summit in three words, it would be these: professional, substantial and convivial. Professional, because the eight ministers and two leaders who assembled at RAF Brize Norton on 31 January quite simply got the job done, signing major agreements that were the culmination of many months of behind-the-scenes planning and negotiations. And, despite nuances of opinion and vision between President Hollande and Prime Minister Cameron on Europe, the two leaders had a meaningful conversation on the future of the EU and agreed on the need for a more efficient, more competitive European Union. Substantial, because France and the UK consolidated their cooperation across a range of fields, with commitments that will affect the lives of millions of citizens and bind our two countries for many years to come. And last, but by no means least, convivial, because this was after all a meeting between the leaders of two countries that are friends, allies and neighbours, two leaders therefore with an awful lot to talk about.

Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK

Published on 07/03/2014

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