Instead of me scattering sandwich crumbs across the i Editor’s desk, yesterday brought an unusually glamorous engagement: lunch with the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls.
Monsieur Valls, a tough, energetic reformer who is cutting France’s public spending and 75 per cent top tax rate, is here to see our PM and spread the word that Paris is sorting out its debt. He spoke to us frankly for 90 minutes about the challenges facing France – and the rest of us in Europe.
France hasn’t balanced a budget since 1974, and M Valls, who took office in March, is determined to tackle 11 per cent unemployment and weak growth (0.4 per cent this year, compared with the UK’s 3.1 per cent). The Socialist government should have acted two years ago, he said: “We didn’t adapt early enough.”
He’s obviously a friend of Britain and has co-operated with Theresa May on security, intelligence and fighting organised crime. France and Britain, he pointed out, “are both acting on behalf of the rest of Europe in Africa, the Sahel, Iraq – taking the initiative.”
I figured you might be interested in whether M Valls thinks David Cameron can succeed in fundamentally renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU. “I have no doubt the British Prime Minister is good at persuading,” he began. “When one is in the EU one has to abide by the rules… When one is in a club you have rights and duties. We have to try to move together while respecting British sovereignty.
“Change is difficult to envisage, but I don’t want to prejudge. It’s important to listen to David Cameron on these issues: freedom of movement, immigration, impact on our society.”
The priority for the EU was clear: not rewriting treaties but delivering economic growth for all its peoples.
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