UK

François Baroin: 'Being French Is Better Than Being British' As Eurozone Crisis Deepens (Live Updates)

16/12/2011 14:31 GMT | Updated 16/12/2011 17:44 GMT

Britain’s historic difficulties with France took a turn for the worse on Friday after an unsavory war of words broke out over the eurozone.

In a spectacular moment of machismo, France’s finance minister, François Baroin said being French is better than being a Brit.

"It's true that the economic situation in Great Britain is very worrying and that we prefer being French rather than British on the economic front at the moment.

"We don't want to be given any lessons and we don't give any," he was reported as saying on Europe 1 radio.

His comments are likely to upset “bulldog” Prime Minister David Cameron who set himself on a crash course with European neighbours after using Britain’s veto at last week’s eurozone summit.

Meanwhile, the head of the Bank of France - Christian Noyer - also stuck the boot into the British economy.

He said in an interview with Le Telegramme newspaper: "The United Kingdom has more deficits, just as much debt, more inflation and less growth than we have."

But late on Friday afternoon, the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon telephoned Nick Clegg out of the blue to "clarify" his earlier comments on the UK economy, where he had suggested that the UK should lose its AAA credit rating before France did.

Clegg told Fillon that "recent remarks from members of the French government about the UK economy were simply unacceptable” and that steps should be taken “to calm the rhetoric".

Speaking to Huffpost UK a spokesman for Nick Clegg said: "The deputy prime minister and PM Fillon have quite an extensive working relationship and have had several long meetings this year. They conduct their business in French. On this particular occasion since the remarks that have been made, PM Fillon wanted to get in touch.

"The message came through that he wanted to speak to the Deputy Prime Minister so we set up the call this afternoon.

"In many ways PM Fillon is the Deputy Prime Minister's opposite number so it's natural for them to speak to each other, as well as their ongoing relationship."

Despite the row and Cameron’s dramatic “no” to treaty change in the eurozone meeting, the UK is to return to the table for technical discussions surrounding the fiscal integration deal.

The move - agreed on Thursday night in a telephone call between Cameron and the President of the European Council, Herman von Rompuy - is likely to be seen as an olive branch both to the other EU countries and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

"The prime minister reiterated that he wants the new fiscal agreement to succeed, and to find the right way forward that ensures the EU institutions fulfil their role as guardian of the EU treaty on issues such as the single market," a No 10 spokesman said.

After the crisis deal was agreed last week, there was immediate criticism of Cameron's stance, which many said would not protect the City of London from regulation from Brussels.

Earlier, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said in a speech that the EU must look for more sustainable, long term solutions to its sovereign debt crisis, and politicians must overlook the short term needs for "rigour" in order to achieve the goal of stability, Reuters reported.

"To help European construction evolve in a way that unites, not divides, we cannot afford that the crisis in the euro zone brings us ... the risk of conflicts between the virtuous North and an allegedly vicious South," he told a conference in Rome.