French President Francois Hollande dealt a blow Friday to Prime Minister David Cameron’s hopes of renegotiating Britain’s membership of the EU before a referendum in 2017, saying treaty change was “not a priority”.
At an Anglo-French summit held at an airbase in Oxfordshire, west of London, Hollande indicated he might be open to treaty change in the future to ensure the eurozone was “better coordinated”.
But on the wider issue of reform, he said: “We feel that revising the treaty is not a priority for the time being.”
Under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative party, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s position in the EU and put the new deal to a referendum after the next election in 2015.
Hollande told a joint press conference that he “perfectly respected” Britain’s right to hold a vote, but said: “We can’t impose the British choice on Europe.”
Cameron said he remained optimistic of achieving the changes he wanted and insisted the vote would go ahead, provided he is re-elected next year.
“My position absolutely remains that we want to see those changes, we want that renegotiation,” he said.
“What people really need to know in the UK is that an in-out referendum... will happen by the end of 2017. There is absolutely no doubt about that.”
The first Anglo-French summit since Hollande was elected in 2012 saw agreements signed in the fields of defence, nuclear energy and space exploration.
It concluded with an informal lunch between the two leaders at the nearby Swan Inn, a riverside pub dating back to 1885 which has featured in the hit television show “Downton Abbey”.
Despite their ideological differences, the men put on a good show of cooperation, the only awkward moment coming when a British journalist asked about Hollande’s recent separation from his partner.
The president announced last week he was splitting from Valerie Trierweiler after media reports that he was having an affair with an actress.
“Do you think your private life has made France an international joke, are you still having an affair with Julie Gayet and do you wish she was here?” the reporter asked.
To which Hollande replied: “I will not answer.”