Europe and the ongoing debt crisis were top of the agenda when Francois Hollande held talks with UK leader David Cameron in London on Tuesday.
On his first official visit to the UK as president of France, Hollande said the future of both nations lay within a 'multi-speed Europe'.
“Britain does not intend to block, or halt what the eurozone countries need to do, and France as part of the eurozone does not intend to force anyone to join us,” Hollande told reporters in a joint press conference with Cameron.
“So we need to conceive a multi-speed Europe with each country running at their own pace, taking what they want from the European Union with respect for the other countries,” he said.
“Britain unhappy with current role”
Britain’s role in Europe has come under scrutiny in the run-up to Tuesday’s bilateral talks, with Cameron under pressure from some of his right-wing Tory backbenchers to hold a referendum on whether the country should leave the EU.
On Tuesday he told reporters: “We are better off within the European Union... but I don't think Britain is happy with its current relationship with the European Union. We need changes, and I'm in favour of making those changes and putting them to the people to get their consent.”
FRANCE 24's international affairs editor Armen Georgian said Hollande's calls for a 'multi-speed Europe' could have been aimed at easing the pressure on Cameron.
"He was perhaps trying to defuse the tensions being brought into the talks by the right-wing of the Tory party who are pushing for a refendum on Britain's relationship with Europe," said Georgian.
"By calling for Europe of different speeds he might have helped Cameron because a referendum is not something he wants right now."
Hollande said both leaders shared the same objective of putting their countries “on the path to growth and recovery.” Although with Cameron committed to crippling austerity and Hollande favouring taxing the weathly the two have different ideas of how to balance the books.
The two leaders also said the €14 billion annual spending increase for Brussels proposed by the EU Commission was "unacceptable".
The ongoing eurozone crisis was one of a number of topics, including defence and the Syria crisis, that the two leaders discussed over a 90-minute working lunch at Cameron’s 10 Downing Street residence.
Hollande was also due to meet the Queen at Windsor Castle, just outside London, for a 30-minute private interview in which the monarch was expected to speak French.
Tuesday’s visit by the new French head of state marked a big change to the last time he was in London in February. Then, Hollande was merely a presidential candidate and the only significant dignitary to meet him that day was the Labour leader Ed Miliband
Cameron’s decision to decline a meeting that day was billed as a snub to Hollande and marked the beginning of an expected rocky relationship between the conservative UK leader and the French socialist.
Hollande played down Cameron’s comments on Tuesday, saying he had not been offended and that he welcomed “humour, especially British humour”.
"I am very happy at the prospect of more red carpets over the coming months and years," Hollande joked.
Cameron explained the comments by saying he wanted to “make Britain the most competitive country in the world.”
The French president’s bid to tax high earners is not the only proposed levy that could undermine his relationship with Cameron, before it has really got going.
The British government has suggested it will fight the planned tax, which could affect up to 200,000 Britons who own second homes across the channel.
Hollande’s proposed tax on financial transactions has also had Cameron twitching. The British leader has already said he would resist such a move in a bid to protect the interests of the City of London.
It was similar strategy to protect the City's fianncial might that forced Cameron to veto the EU’s budgetary discipline treaty last December, much to the annoyance of Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
But as is the norm at joint talks, the two leaders presented a united front on Tuesday, with Cameron promising to build a “strong relationship” with Hollande in the future.
"There will always be areas where we don't agree but we have found much common ground today," Cameron said.