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EU: Hollande Warns 'No Cherry Picking'

(c) Sky News 2013

President Francois Hollande has taken several swipes at David Cameron over the Prime Minister's plan to call a referendum on repatriating powers from Brussels.

The French leader received a warm welcome from MEPs at the start of a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in which he explained his decision to intervene in Mali and his vision for an integrated Europe.

The president never mentioned David Cameron by name, but there was little doubt who he meant when he said that Europe's confidence was being knocked because "national interests are taking over common European interests".

He said that Europe is "a wonderful idea, a great adventure ... but for too long Europe has had doubts about itself".

Mr Hollande also argued that austerity must be applied with "discernment", and that the EU's focus needs to be on growth and competitiveness, which could be damaged by large cuts to the EU long-term budget.

Talks on the financial blueprint resume on Thursday in Brussels with the UK, the Netherlands and others calling for a 30bn euro cut to the 932bn spending limit proposed by the European Commission for 2014 to 2020.

The French leader said Europe could only clamber out of the debt crisis by solidarity and integration, not "a collection of nations getting what they want out of it ... Self and self alone is not acceptable".

In another jibe at Britain, he said: "There are those who want to see cuts, others - possibly the same, who want guarantees on their own rebate."

And in a direct reference to Mr Cameron's plan to pursue a fresh settlement with Brussels and put that to a public vote, he warned there can be "no cherry picking, no a la carte on treaties".

Mr Hollande has similar problems in his own Socialist party as the Conservative leader has in the UK.

He faces a strong core of eurosceptics who are suspicious of any loss of sovereignty to the European project.

In 2005, a referendum in France on a proposed EU constitution led to a split in his party, and a defeat for the pro-European lobby.

The French leader also explained his reasons for intervening in Mali, pointing out that France had only emerged from the Second World War with the help of other nations.

Acting in Mali was vital to maintaining security in the region, he said.

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