Page last updated at 00:39 GMT, Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sarkozy and Brown attack US over 'protectionism'

Gordon Brown: "We need more global co-operation now, not less"

Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown have joined forces to attack the US for "protectionism" over an aerospace deal after talks in Downing Street.

The two leaders staged a show of unity at a joint press conference, hailing co-operation between the UK and France.

A European-led consortium pulled out of bidding for an Air Force refuelling tanker contract saying the Pentagon was favouring rival American bidder Boeing.

A top Pentagon official dismissed any suggestion of protectionism.

Ashton Carter, the undersecretary of defence, told journalists on Friday: "We value the contribution of European industry. There is no protectionism going on."

'Incredible history'

But Mr Sarkozy said earlier the US was not treating its European allies in the "right way".

"If [the US] want to be spearheading the fight against protectionism, they shouldn't be setting the wrong example of protectionism," he said.

"In life there is what you say and then there is what you do."

Mr Brown said he was disappointed with the situation: "We believe in free trade, we believe in open markets, we believe in open competition."

The French president also met Tory leader David Cameron and joked he had been told there was an election on.

He said he regretted the Conservatives' decision to leave the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.

Speaking alongside Mr Sarkozy, Mr Brown praised his presidency of the EU in 2008 as a "demonstration of leadership at its very best" and said Anglo-French co-operation was at its closest since the Second World War.

He said they had discussed a range of issues including the economy, nuclear power and the Middle East.

"We share an incredible history but Britain's alliance with France is also an alliance for the future," Mr Brown said.

Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy
The two leaders praised close co-operation between the countries

Mr Brown said they had renewed co-operation on nuclear power and would embark on "deeper partnerships to share expertise and build skills".

The prime minister also said they were "in harmony" on the need for a global bank levy.

On EU plans to regulate hedge funds and private equity, about which the UK has raised concerns, Mr Brown said he believed "that we can reach a solution over the next few days on these issues".

'Right and proper'

He added he believed they would show they had "protected the interests of the financial services sector" and made sure "there is no harm done" to the City of London.

Mr Sarkozy said it was "only right and proper" that Mr Brown would want to defend the City of London.

He added: "Our teams are working together to try and find a point of equilibrium whereby we can regulate and ensure transparency, avoid systemic risk and ensure that the City, which is a major asset for Europe, does not feel harmed or threatened... Have we found it? Not yet."

I remained convinced the position of our British friends is bang in the middle of Europe
Nicolas Sarkozy

The French president said France and the UK had always worked in partnership - over issues including the Lisbon Treaty, the economic crisis and it had been "a pleasure to work with Gordon throughout this".

He also met Conservative leader Mr Cameron for the first time since 2008.

Last year Mr Cameron pulled the Conservatives out of the European People's Party - the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament to which Mr Sarkozy's party, and that of German chancellor Angela Merkel belong.

'Ridiculous' rumours

Mr Sarkozy told the press conference with Mr Brown: "I regret them having pulled out" but added: "I don't want to meddle with domestic affairs".

But he said: "I remained convinced that the position of our British friends is bang in the middle of Europe. We need you."

He also laughed off internet rumours about his marriage - asked about the claims by a British journalist he replied: "I love Britain - don't make me bite back those words."

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy
The French president also met Mr Cameron during his visit

He told a French journalist the rumours were "ridiculous".

The Conservatives have stressed they support working with France in areas such as defence.

On Wednesday, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said a Conservative government would play a "leading role" in the European Union and would "maintain and value the bonds of our relationships" with other EU states.

But BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said there were questions about whether a Conservative government would pull out of the Brussels-based European Defence Agency.

He added, with a general election pending, the French president would be keen to gauge how far Anglo-French relations could change if the Conservatives win power.

The EU summit in Brussels later this month is expected to be dominated by the economy.

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