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Friday, 28 March 2008

28 March 2008

I trust you’ve been feeling well-loved this week – because President Sarkozy of France loves all of us. He adores us, admires us and wants to move in with us. (Apologies to my non-British readers: in this context “us” means “us Brits”.)

He has smothered us in love, he has ladled love upon us in such quantities that it has been difficult to breathe. He has flattered and flirted so outrageously that his new wife, the delectable former model Mme Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, must have been left wondering if his affections have already moved on.

So how should we react? Well, it’s always nice to be loved and admired – and Gallic charm can go a long way. But we’re grown-ups, aren’t we, and we know that a flatterer’s intentions are not, shall we say, always strictly honourable.

“Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Lord Palmerston, 19th century prime minister and foreign secretary, knew a thing or two about foreign relations -- and I suspect he would not have succumbed to M Sarkozy’s blandishments. Nor, I fancy, will Gordon Brown.

Yet we did learn something important during the French president’s visit. He is unusually pro-Anglo Saxon in his outlook; he thinks the UK has shown France the way forward. True, he may be a lot more showy than Mr Brown, but the two men do share a deep admiration for Margaret Thatcher.

For the best part of 30 years, France and Germany have been the motor that drives what is now the European Union. (When it started life as the EEC, its main purpose was to prevent those two countries going to war again.) But M Sarkozy is not a huge admirer of the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, nor she of him. It has long been a British dream to come between France and Germany, and now, maybe, the dream has come true.

Or maybe not. Lord Palmerston was right about national interests – and it may well be in France’s interests to cosy up to Britain, but it is certainly not in its interests to cold shoulder Germany. M Sarkozy isn’t changing friends; rather he wants some new friends while keeping all his old ones.

What it means is closer cooperation between Paris and London when it suits both parties – but only then. As for relations between Paris and Washington, the 71-year-old Republican presidential hopeful John McCain likes to joke: “France now has a pro-American president, which just goes to show you that if you live long enough, you'll see everything."

A close aide of M Sarkozy’s told me at the time of his election last year that the President got on famously with Tony Blair, but found Gordon Brown a lot harder to read. Like Mr Blair, he has a way with words, is a great charmer, and delivers a great speech. None of which can be said of Mr Brown.

Yet I fancy the prime minister would agree that the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster has rarely witnessed a tour de force such as that delivered by the French president on Wednesday. Together, he said, France and Britain can rule the world. “If the United Kingdom and France together want more justice, the world will be more just. If the United Kingdom and France fight together for peace, the world will be more peaceful. If the United Kingdom and France unite to brave the rising economic storm and jointly propose the necessary reforms, the world will be less uncertain and more prosperous.”

We shall see. Back home, French voters are none too impressed with their flamboyant President’s performance so far … and yesterday the French newspaper Le Monde commented acidly that M Sarkozy had seemed just as British in London as he had seemed American in Washington.

A final word about Mme Sarkozy: some of my colleagues say she reminds them of Audrey Hepburn. I agree she’s elegant and charming, but for me, La Hepburn will always be, as they say, nonpareil.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,

Whilst in an Italian cafe in East Finchley, I overheard a conversation that Mme Sarkozy is re enacting the timeless Dior image and deportment of Jacqueline Kennedy. I wonder if this crossed anyone else's mind.