U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron signed an accord in Paris on civilian nuclear cooperation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, paving the way for the construction of a new generation of power stations in Britain.
Relations between Britain and France have been strained by Cameron’s refusal in December to back a European Union accord to strengthen the euro and by Sarkozy’s push for an EU-wide financial-transaction tax.
After their initial meeting today, the two leaders said they had focused on areas of cooperation, including Syria and plans for a new military drone aircraft as well as nuclear deals between Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc (RR/) and Areva SA and between EDF SA (EDF) and a joint venture of Kier Group Plc (KIE) and BAM Nuttall Ltd. Both relate to a new reactor at Hinkley Point in western England.
“I don’t think there has been closer French-British cooperation at any time since the Second World War,” Cameron told reporters at a joint press conference. “The strength of the relationship is we can have disagreement but then actually be able to go on working together.”
The U.K. sees nuclear power as a way to meet the energy needs of citizens while abiding by targets to reduce the production of carbon dioxide, which is linked to climate change. The resignation this month of Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who argued that nuclear power must be shown to be competitive on price, may make it easier for Cameron to get new plants built.
Deals to be signed today include a 400 million-pound ($630 million) agreement for Rolls-Royce to manufacture equipment and provide servicing for a reactor being built by Areva (CEI), and a 100 million-pound contract for Kier and BAM Nuttall for preliminary building work on the Hinkley Point site for EDF.
The two leaders also agreed to move to the next stage of a joint project to make a Medium Altitude Long Endurance drone, with BAE Systems Plc and Dassault tasked with studying technical risks. Both men condemned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s continued violent crackdown on the country’s opposition.
“We are looking at ways to help, but the revolution can’t be done without the Syrian people,” Sarkozy said. “Our message to the Syrian opposition is join together and tell us how we can help.”
Cameron echoed those sentiments. “I’m not satisfied we’re taking all the action we need to, but it’s difficult,” he said. “It’s complicated.”
Cameron said ties between Britain and France are “incredibly strong” and “easily strong enough to survive the odd bump and bounce that we sometimes have when we have a disagreement.” Sarkozy, who trails his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in the polls ahead of the first round of elections on April 22, said “there are more convergences than divergences” between Britain and France.
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