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6th April 2004

Entente Cordiale

A French band played "God Save the Queen" along Paris' Champs-Elysees as the Queen started a state visit marking a century of cooperation between the two nations.

The monarch's three-day trip coincides with the centennial of the EntenteCordiale, a colonial-era agreement that ended centuries of warring and hostility between France and Britain and paved the way for cooperation during two World Wars.

The Entente Cordiale was a colonial-era agreement signed by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, and the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, in London on 8 April 1904 with the aim of settling long-standing disputes between the UK and France in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Siam, Madagascar, the New Hebrides, West and Central Africa and Newfoundland.

But it had a wider significance in that it also represented a shift from a history overshadowed by conflict and rivalry to a sustained era of rapprochement and alliance. For example, the agreements were crucial in paving the way for Franco-British diplomatic and military cooperation in the lead-up to World War I.

The visit comes as France and Britain are repairing ties strained over the Iraq war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was U.S. President George W. Bush's strongest backer for war plans, while Chirac was among Bush's most outspoken critics.

Good Relations?

Despite being separated by only 22 miles of water at the narrowest point, the French and British sometimes seem separated by a much wider gulf of misunderstanding and distrust. French cuisine is highly regarded by most UK foodies, the French on the other hand, are not big fans of British cooking. This non-reciprocal relationship extends to holidays and second homes. The mere suggestion of Sussex wine would send any self-regarding Frenchman running for the hills. Whereas crates of Burgundy and Champagne are regularly downed by Brits.

However - not everything French is held in high regard. Some Brits are appalled that snails and frogs legs are eaten on a regular basis. The popular press regularly question French attitude and integrity – particularly in relation to the Iraq war, the Second World War and their power within the European Community.

The two nations have often had testy relations and diplomatic tiffs. In 1984, for example, when France's late President Francois Mitterrand visited Britain to commemorate the Entente's 80th anniversary, one of his bodyguards planted explosives in the grounds of the French ambassador's residence to test British security.

Although there have been occasions when the two nations have pulled together. During World War II, De Gaulle, who campaigned to free France from London with the support of the British government, declared to the House of Commons on 27 February 1941 that “Britain and France are bound together, for life and death, by the same destiny or by the same ideal”.

A recent poll shows 73% of Brits have visited France, on ski-ing trip, family camping holidays in the South or perhaps those day trips to stock up on alcohol for family parties.

The poll also found:

*  73% of Brits have visited France.
*  76% of Brits admire the French countryside.
*   9% have an affinity with France (compared to 24% 
    who feel an affinity with the US).
*  15% say they trust the French (compared to 55%
    who trust Spaniards).

The poll was a joint cross channel venture by ICM and BVA France for The Guardian and the newspaper Liberation.

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