World Bank chief "troubled" by British-French exchanges

Fri Dec 16, 2011 2:43pm EST

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(Reuters) - World Bank President Robert Zoellick said on Friday he was "deeply troubled" by exchanges between Britain and France over resolving the euro zone debt crisis especially at a time when the region's economic problems are far from solved.

"I have been deeply troubled over the past couple of days to see some of the commentary going across the English Channel, not only comments from France but also from Brussels" and others, Zoellick told the Atlantic Council.

Political strains in Europe have erupted over British Prime Minister David Cameron's refusal to sign a European summit deal on the euro zone debt crisis. Britain, which is not in the euro zone, found itself on its own when 26 of the 27 member states led by Germany and France agreed on December 9 to press ahead with a separate treaty for deeper economic integration.

Zoellick said it was important in the face of the deep financial and economic crisis engulfing the euro zone that European leaders acted responsibility.

"Negotiations often leave these tensions but if the process that evolves out of Europe starts to create a deeper acrimony with Britain, I don't think that is good for where the European Union will go, I don't ultimately think it's good for Britain ...," he said, nodding to the upcoming French presidential election in 2012.

"I am also suggesting at key points like this where it is sensitive, you want to encourage people to act with a higher plane of responsibility," he said. "They need to be careful because I think you've got a tinderbox out there in both political and economic terms," Zoellick added.

He cautioned that populist political tensions often led to protectionism. "The European Union should be the last place we see internal protectionism, but now does this start to pose the dangers of some of those topics?" he added.

Zoellick said the best way for the United States and China to help Europe and the world economy was "for them to clean up their act at home, be a source of growth at home, and be a source of confidence to the markets".

He said emerging market countries, such as China, were willing to help Europe address its debt crisis by providing loans through institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

(Reporting By Lesley Wroughton; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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