Sun, Dec 18, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Britain and France on the attack over credit ratings

Reuters, LONDON and PARIS

Britain and France clashed over credit ratings on Friday, adding to tensions that erupted over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s veto of a treaty on eurozone fiscal integration.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told French Prime Minister Francois Fillon French criticism of the British economy was unacceptable and called for a cooling of the rhetoric.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said he was “deeply troubled” by exchanges between Britain and France over resolving the euro zone debt crisis.

Differences over the debt crisis affecting both the euro zone and Britain have chilled an initially warm relationship between the eurosceptic Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Relations between the neighbours and age-old rivals grew more tense when Cameron refused to sign up a week ago to a European summit deal on the eurozone’s debt crisis calling for a tougher deficit and debt regime.

The decision left Britain isolated among the 27 EU members.

Earlier on Friday, Finance Minister Francois Baroin had joined a chorus of French criticism of the British economy.

“The economic situation in Britain today is very worrying, and you’d rather be French than British in economic terms,” Baroin told Europe 1 radio.

Fillon raised similar concerns about Britain and the rating agencies on Thursday, saying during a visit to Brazil: “When I look at our British friends, who are even more indebted than us and carrying a bigger deficit, what I see is that the ratings agencies so far don’t seem to have noticed.”

Some French leaders are irked that powerful global credit ratings agencies seem to take a rosier view of the British economy than the French.

Britain, which has embarked on tough austerity policies to curb a big budget deficit, retains a top-notch credit rating.

Clegg’s office said Fillon called him from Rio de Janeiro to clarify his comments.

“Fillon made clear it had not been his intention to call into question the UK’s rating, but to highlight that ratings agencies appeared more focused on economic governance than deficit levels,” the statement said.

Clegg accepted his explanation but said recent remarks by members of the French government about the British economy were “simply unacceptable and that steps should be taken to calm the rhetoric. Prime Minister Fillon agreed,” it said.

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