A new era for British–Franco relations?
Two men, from similar political backgrounds, with similar political views. Yet one is mocked by the British as the archetypal miserable Frenchman, while the other represents a great new hope for relations between his country and ours.
The Times’ Washington correspondent, Gerard Baker, wrote that:
Having endured years of Gallic disdain, contempt and hostility, America is getting used to the happy possibility that France might actually be a friend and even an ally again.
Given Britain’s ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ relationship with the United States in recent years, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Élysée Palace also permits a thawing in relations between Britain and its neighbour.
The bonhomie exhibited by Mr Blair and M. Chirac this week was tinged with the disdain that the two statesmen have held for each other ever since Blair burst onto the European stage with his brand of slick, demanding diplomacy in 1997. But when he met M. Chirac’s successor (right), things were very different.
Perhaps M. Sarkozy’s warmth was helped by the knowledge that his British counterpart will not long be in a position to demand things of Europe. The infamous rebate will surely come up again in time, and Mr Brown is known to be a more passionate defender of Britain’s subsidy from Europe than Mr Blair has been.
Yet there is little to suggest things will be frostier when the Scot moves to Number 10. While he may not be the Europhile that Tony Blair is, he and Sarkozy may find their mutual Atlanticism to be a useful asset.
Sarkozy’s nicknames include ‘Sarko the American’ and ‘Speedy’ (a sign of his apparent hyperactivity, apparently). Both seem to be traits that Gordon Brown is moving towards. The steady hand on the economic rudder will likely be replaced by a fervent Prime Minister, keen to exert control quickly over ‘his’ government while making constitutional changes to win over the people. His ability to sit on the fence was demonstrated well in his recent book, Courage. It features a delicately balanced portrayal of two Americans, two Brits and two Europeans.
Denis McShane – former Minister for Europe – painted a picture of a European tricycle, with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel perched on each wheel. It’s a convincing image. With Iran and Syria seeming to pose the only foreign threats to this balancing act, on foreign affairs the leaders of Europe’s major industrial nations are generally united.
But will this new-found Euro-love permeate into wider society? Britons’ ridicule of all things Gallic has become something of a cliché. The optimist would suggest that better relations between our political leaders might help to rectify this over time. Certainly the tabloid front-pages accusing the French of being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” might be a thing of the past if co-operation at a political level succeeds.
Of course, Sarkozy will only be a success if he solves the numerous domestic conundrums that he promised in the election. But rebuilding relations with Britain and America could be an even greater prize for his country in the long-term.