Cameron plays down differences with Hollande
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he would hold talks with new French President Francois Hollande before an international summit this week, confident they would find "common ground" on how to tackle Europe's economic crisis.
Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Cameron has backed tough austerity policies to tackle Europe's debt and deficit problems while the newly-elected Hollande has vowed to shift the focus to growth.
The different approaches go to the heart of the British political debate, where the opposition Labour Party has accused Cameron of cutting Britain's deficit too fast and having no growth plan to revive the recession-hit economy.
Cameron, a centre-right Conservative who heads a two-year-old coalition government, refused to meet Hollande when he visited London in February during his election campaign while Labour leader Ed Miliband had lunch with the French Socialist.
Cameron, who has pushed through tough austerity measures to try to cut a big British budget deficit, said he spoke briefly to Hollande after his election victory this month.
"I look forward to having a longer bilateral (meeting) with him before the G8 starts this weekend," he said, referring to a gathering of leaders of the Group of Eight leading economies at Camp David in the United States from May 18 to 19.
"I look forward specifically to discussing what more we can do to help in terms of European growth," Cameron said.
"I do think there will be common ground between the British view of what needs to happen in Europe and the French view."
Cameron, who struck up a close relationship with Hollande's centre-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, warned the euro zone must act swiftly to solve its debt crisis or face a potential break-up. Britain is outside the euro zone.
"The euro zone has to make a choice. If the euro zone wants to continue as it is, then it has got to build a proper firewall, it has got to take steps to secure the weakest members of the euro zone, or it's going to have to work out it has to go in a different direction," Cameron said.
"It either has to make up or it is looking at a potential break-up. That is the choice they have to make, and it is a choice they cannot long put off," he added.
An aide to Cameron said the prime minister would rather see the euro zone "make up". "There'd be huge implications for us if there was a break-up," the aide said.
Hollande and Merkel acknowledged differences after talks in Berlin on Tuesday over how to boost growth in recession-plagued Europe, but pledged to forge a joint approach in time for an EU summit next month.
Hollande has called for tighter regulation of financial markets, a sensitive point in Britain which has Europe's biggest financial centre in London.
Cameron sought to play down differences between his own and Hollande's approach.
"Together with the Italian prime minister (Mario Monti) and many other prime ministers we have put forward a whole series of steps that can help the European economy to move," he said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Falloon, Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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