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EU struggles to show united front over euro crisis

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2011-10-25

The row between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron reflects the growing rift between European countries that have adopted the single currency and those that have not.

Differences have widened between members of the debt-saddled European Union, hurting the chances of quick economic recovery for the region. In further evidence of tension within the 27-member bloc, European officials on Tuesday played down hopes of reaching an agreement on the latest plan to solve the eurozone's debt woes in time for Wednesday's key summit in Brussels.


The 17 countries in the single-currency eurozone

Founded in 1999, the eurozone was first comprised of eleven members: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Portugal. It was then expanded to include Greece (2001), Slovenia (2007), Cyprus, Malta (2008), Slovakia (2009) and Estonia (2011).

The ten EU countries outside the eurozone

The United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Romania.

The stumbling block was only the latest in a series that has accentuated differences between the 17 EU countries that are part of the eurozone and the remaining 10 that do not use the common currency. Those differences were highlighted by the recent verbal jousting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

According to several British newspapers citing diplomatic sources, Sarkozy and Cameron expressed differences on Sunday over which countries should attend Wednesday's crisis talks. After Cameron convinced others that all 27 EU members -- and not just eurozone members -- should participate, Sarkozy allegedly blasted him on the sidelines of the gathering for "interfering in our meetings".

Sarkozy's criticism of Cameron seemed legitimate to many Europeans on either side of the Channel. In an online poll by British daily The Guardian, which asked readers to answer the question "Do you sympathise with Nicolas Sarkozy's 'shut up' comment?", more than 80 percent of respondents said "Yes".

"The criticisms are completely justified," argued Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a pro-EU group based in Paris. "London is playing it both ways. It wants to be involved in discussions on the euro on one hand, and on the other wants out of the European Union," Giuliani said.

Whose debt crisis?

The issue continued to hound Cameron at home, where the prime minister was forced to respond to a parliamentary vote for a referendum on leaving the EU on Monday. The motion was rejected by the British Parliament, but 81 Conservative Party MPs, or more than a quarter of the members of Cameron's own camp, defied their leader by voting in favour of it.

"We understand that many people who voted for it felt very strongly -- and we respect that. However, the government has to do what is in the national interest .... Britain's best interests are served by being in the EU," Cameron's office said in a statement following the vote.

Caroline de Camaret, FRANCE 24's European affairs editor, agreed the recent rows reflected the EU's struggle to respond to its members' different, and often conflicting, interests. "The ten countries that have not adopted the single currency accuse the eurozone members of trying to organize a 17-member union under the leadership of [European Council President] Herman Van Rompuy," Camaret said.

The debt crisis has forced the euro "17" to meet regularly in order to reconcile economic policies and enact common budgetary restrictions. "The problem is that any concerted action designed to change existing agreements concerns the 27-member block, but the debt crisis more specifically affects the 17 single-currency members," Camaret added.

While the differences flared between London and Paris, Cameron has not been the only leader to criticize the apparent exclusivity of the eurozone states. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt also chastised the limited participation of the summits. The Netherlands and Finland also warned in a letter that "all EU states should be involved in decisions" to preserve the economic prosperity of the continent.

Their call for unity was echoed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday. "There should not be a separation between the euro area and the rest of the European Union. We want the EU to remain a very, very strong union. At the same time, we have to improve the coherence of the euro area," Barroso said.

Date created : 2011-10-25


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