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French flattery

Nick Robinson | 12:49 UK time, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Emirates stadium, Arsenal, North London

We've been flattered. We've been charmed. We've been wooed. And I'm only talking about the French president and not his photogenic wife, Carla.

Nicolas Sarkozy, Arsene Wenger and Gordon BrownNicolas Sarkozy's mission on this trip has been to seduce the British public as he did the French electorate and, of course, Carla too (but more than enough has been written about her already). This, I confess, leaves me feeling rather like the prime minister did last night at Windsor Castle - aware of where I am and yet somehow feeling lost.* At every Anglo-French summit presser I've attended my job's been simplicity itself - simply light the blue touch paper and watch the differences explode in a mixture of Gallic indignation and British exasperation. So, now what are we to do?

Sarko's words of praise for Britain - not just for our role in two world wars, not just as the founders of parliamentary democracy but also as a model since - go way beyond what any previous president has said. Sarkozy and Brown have a shared history of waiting impatiently for the top job, of soaring and then plummeting in public esteem and of genuine mutual admiration. Today they are announcing co-operation on immigration, the economy, defence, development and nuclear power to illustrate the rhetoric about a new Franco-British fraternity". And yet and yet...

President SarkozyBritain has always seen France's concept of European defence co-operation as a potential threat to NATO and not something that underpins it.

Britain continues to promote free trade whilst France under President Sarkozy continues to talk about protectionism.

Britain wants radical reform of the CAP and European budget whilst France will fight to protect her interests.

Now, you may say, countries will always have differences and they will always pursue their national interests. What matters is the mood with which they approach the problems that emerge. Certainly, this visit feels very very different from the icy Chirac/Blair summits - at least the ones in later years.

However, the question hanging over this "entente amicale" is how will we feel the morning after the heady night before?

* Hats off to my colleagues at ITN who noticed the Queen waiting for Mr Brown to arrive at last night's Windsor banquet and remarking that "Well the prime minister got lost. He disappeared the wrong way…at the crucial moment".


  • 1.
  • At 01:59 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • jim brant wrote:

As I watched Sarkozy's speech I almost felt sorry for Cameron having to listen to comments about the vibrant UK economic performance being a model that France should aspire to emulate. And that coming on the same day that he was so obviously stung by being told that he couldn't do simple arithmetic!

  • 2.
  • At 02:39 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • M Rae wrote:

I might be missing something here but.. your 'colleagues' at ITN..? You're not moonlighting are you Nick?

  • 3.
  • At 02:51 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Pig Man Pig wrote:

Are we sure that the Queen wasn't just making an insightful political observation?

  • 4.
  • At 03:55 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • John F Aberdeen wrote:

That Clunking Fist Bottler got lost in Windsor is no big surprise, its in keeping with his dithering, hamfisted performance as our so-called prime minister.
He truly is an image of the character Rodney from Only Fools and Horses
and, to quote Del Boys description of Rodney,,, "What a Plonker"

  • 5.
  • At 03:57 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • jeremy wrote:

Quand le prime minsiter est perdu peutetre il dit 'ou est le cabinet ?' Je remember il was ferme in un WC et telephone le Tony pour release.

  • 6.
  • At 04:02 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Robin wrote:

You can't seriously believe a beleaguered French President doesn't have a motive for this kind of sycophancy?

We should read nothing into this except that it's a glorified publicity stunt and in that respect he shares Gordon's fondness for grandstanding.

It's embarrassing; for us all.

  • 7.
  • At 05:29 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • the view from here wrote:

I agree with Robin (no.6), flattery is always the false front of some ulterior motive, and more fool anyone who who falls for it (stop purring Gordon!)

  • 8.
  • At 06:19 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Clive Grinyer wrote:

It is interesting that we are suprised when foreign observers point out that we in fact a very successful country, with a strong economy. We spend so long assuming we are terrible, but this is not the case, especially compared with many of our European partners who do indeed aspire to our performance.

  • 9.
  • At 06:26 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • John Murcutt wrote:

Why should we want to have even closer ties with France.

I wish that Mr Bean....ooops....I Mr Brown our Prime Minister, would spend a little more time sorting out the mess that he and his Government have already made of the Country.

He is making the country look like a joke.

  • 10.
  • At 06:51 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Andrew Rowntree wrote:

Why no mention of the main reason for this trip; an EU army. Sarkozy is only in the UK, and giving us all this praise because he wants to use the French presidency of the EU to push forward plans for an EU Defence Force. Sarko knows that without the British onside (so we can be used to convince the Americans than an EU army wouldn’t try to usurp NATO) his plans would never succeed. It’s a sad day when you need to use foreign news sources to find the truth; whatever happened to the once great BBC?

  • 11.
  • At 06:53 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Mad Max wrote:

What a Gaul! And nuclear powered too.

At least 70% of Frances electricity is generated from nuclear power stations and they have the engineering infrastructure to build new ones too. This is something we can no longer do. Most of our nuclear engineers are in retirement and nobody has replaced them because of the moratorium on new builds. The ones that have are working on the continent for France and Germany.

Its going to be a nice earner for the French and German economies as they design and build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK. Its also good news for Sellafield in Cumbria as these stations will all need waste reprocessing.

What a shame we cannot do this ourselves?

  • 12.
  • At 08:42 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Eric Gay wrote:

Sarko may not have got it all right yet, but I would far rather be here paying my taxes and getting something in return like good public services, than suffering what the dreadful,dithering,pension-stealing Brown and his cronies have to offer.

I hope and believe at the end of his time in office, Sarko will also have dragged France kicking and screaming in to the 21st century and Britain will be able to return the congratulations about an economy which is one of the best in Europe.

Eric - Carcassonne

  • 13.
  • At 08:56 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • elizabeth brennan wrote:

Is Sarkosy the new Blair? Does he intend to dominate the world stage too? And flaunt 'l'entente sexy'.

  • 14.
  • At 11:32 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • paul bucknall wrote:

i'm sorry but i feel a bit angry. First of all we greet what the french president says with suspision. Why can't we just get on. France is the nearest continental country to us. Lets embrace what he says, lets listen, learn and maybe get on with one another. It's just childish. econdly i think it's discusting the the british press had to publish the french presidents wife nude picture on the day that he visits. We always go for the lowset common denominator. Enjoyed your coverage nick.

  • 15.
  • At 06:20 AM on 28 Mar 2008,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:
It is interesting that we are suprised when foreign observers point out that we in fact a very successful country, with a strong economy. We spend so long assuming we are terrible, but this is not the case, especially compared with many of our European partners who do indeed aspire to our performance.

I would add that many British people aspire to the quality of life and social wellbeing of our European partners. By properly weighing the range of issues we might all do better, get along more, and be happier. Aspiring to do better and being appreciative of what we have looks like a sensible approach.

  • 16.
  • At 09:05 AM on 28 Mar 2008,
  • J Ferguson wrote:

Cynicism aside, while the speech was coated in sugar and dipped in treacle, the sentiment was sound: working together, Britain and France are stronger.
I hope we see some tangible benefits while the love-affair lasts.

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