Britain not essential to EU, says Hollande

Paris: French President Francois Hollande has attacked Britain's antipathy to the European Union, saying Europe would survive without it.

In a news conference that lasted almost three hours, Mr Hollande addressed British Prime Minister David Cameron's plan for a law guaranteeing a vote on Britain's membership of the EU.

''Europe existed before Britain joined it,'' Mr Hollande said. France, Germany and four other nations were long part of the European Economic Community (EEC) before Britain joined fully in 1973.

''I hope Britain stays in the European Union but I don't want to decide for the British,'' Mr Hollande said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she viewed Britain as an ''important member of the European Union'' and would lobby ''our British friends'' to stay in the bloc.

''It's my firm conviction that we belong together, the UK and the other European member states,'' Ms Merkel said on Germany's WDR television.


Mr Cameron's promise to claw back powers from Europe and put Britain's membership of the bloc to a vote by 2017 has failed to silence eurosceptics within the Conservative Party and halt the rise of the UK Independence Party.

''There are political forces favourable to Britain leaving,'' Mr Hollande said. ''The UK Prime Minister himself wants to renegotiate his country's presence [in the EU]. Let me be clear: I want to make the eurozone go forward as it is the heart [of the EU], because we have integration to pursue.''

There were overtones of former president Charles de Gaulle in his warning that Britain would not slow down European construction.

Mr de Gaulle twice vetoed Britain's entry to the EEC, claiming its ''deep-seated hostility'' would result in the break-up of the community.

''I can understand countries don't want to join the euro, but they cannot impede the consolidation and strengthening of the eurozone,'' Mr Hollande said. ''If they want to go further and refuse powers, then the risk is of a splintered Europe.''

Mr Hollande provocatively promised to lead the bloc towards ''political union'' within two years.

The risk is of a splintered Europe.

''Germany has several times said it is ready for political union, for a new phase in integration,'' he said. ''Well, France is ready to give body to this political union and gives itself two years to do so.''

The President's final flourish was a jab against Mr Cameron's austerity policy, saying Britain's lack of economic progress was helping ''raise awareness'' of the need for growth measures.

Telegraph, London; Bloomberg