Francois Hollande publicly meets Ed Miliband

 

French president Francois Hollande brushed aside protocol rules to give Ed Miliband a warm public welcome to Paris today.

The president overruled the advice of officials that opposition leaders should be greeted in private, and insisted on coming to the steps of the Elysee Palace to shake Mr Miliband's hand in front of the cameras.

The move will be taken as a further sign of the developing warmth between the two centre-left politicians, and stands in marked contrast to the president's prickly relationship with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr Cameron's refusal to meet the Socialist candidate during a campaign visit to London earlier this year was widely regarded as a snub - an impression which gained further traction when it was announced that the Prime Minister will meet US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney this week.

And Mr Cameron's later comment that he would roll out the red carpet for wealthy Frenchmen fleeing a proposed 75% tax rate did not go down well in Paris, though the two leaders laughed it off when Mr Hollande visited London earlier this month.

Mr Miliband - invited to Paris by Hollande when they met during his campaign visit to the UK in February - scored a minor diplomatic triumph by beating the Prime Minister to become the first senior British politician to hold talks at the president's official residence since his election in May.

He later said that they agreed that "the tide is turning" on the austerity agenda pursued by centre-right governments across Europe since the financial crash and branded "Camerkozy economics" by the Labour leader.

"The points of agreement we have were around the fact that the tide is turning against an austerity approach, that there needs to be a different way forward found," said Mr Miliband.

"What President Hollande is seeking to do in France and what he is seeking to do in leading the debate in Europe is find that different way forward."

Both wanted to "move towards jobs and growth in Europe rather than a Europe of austerity and unemployment," said the Labour leader.

And he added: "We also discussed the emergency situation we face in relation to youth unemployment in our countries and the action that can be taken to do something about that.

"I believe action can be taken. I don't believe we need to leave a quarter of our young people out of work and nor does the president of France."

Today's talks took place against the backdrop of further grim news for the eurozone, with Moody's credit rating agency putting Germany on negative outlook amid fears that Spain may buckle under the pressure of gilt yields over 7%.

Asked whether an emergency summit was needed to respond to the latest crisis, Mr Miliband said: "That's obviously something the European leaders will be considering.

"I think it is very, very important for countries to work together not just at each summit but between summits. It is a grave and urgent situation we are seeing in Europe and it can't simply wait until the next summit in October."

Mr Miliband later spoke to deputies of Mr Hollande's Socialist Party at the National Assembly.

He began by addressing them as "chers camarades", but had to admit "I'm afraid my French ends there" and delivered the rest of his speech through a translator.

He won warm applause by telling the French MPs: "Thirty years ago the Labour Party was a party that believed in getting out of Europe. I want to say very very clearly that we consider Britain's place to be in Europe and firmly in Europe."

Labour sources said that Elysee officials had insisted that only visiting heads of government were greeted on the steps of the palace, while opposition politicians met the president indoors away from the cameras.

Reporters were initially told that there was no event for them to attend, and then that photographers would not be admitted to the courtyard of the palace.

But Mr Hollande was said to be "keen" to make a public show of support for the visiting Labour leader and emerged to shake his hands both on his arrival and departure from the palace.

PA

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