Insights from the UK and beyond
Vive the entente — until July
Commentators are revelling in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s effusive praise of Britain and drooling over the fashion sense of his wife but several see stormier waters ahead — specifically in the second half of the year from July when France takes over the presidency of the European Union.
Leader writers see problems in the two countries’ approach to Europe, particularly over France’s desire for closer European defence co-operation and a permanent EU president.
“The excitement generated by the Sarkozys’ visit will soon give way to prosaic confirmation of the old divides,” was the Daily Telegraph’s opinion.
“Gordon Brown is decidedly cool towards the EU and he could soon find himself at odds with a man who has an extremely ambitious agenda for the French presidency,” it added.
The Independent took a similar line, despite underlining the similarity between the domestic political positions of the two leaders.
Both, it noted, were men who had spent their entire lives working towards the top job but having reached the peak, now find themselves falling out of favour with their electorates.
“They are leaders with fading home support in need of some foreign successes to imbue them with the role of statesmen,” it added.
The papers were united in welcoming Sarkozy’s lavish praise for Britain, the Anglo-Saxon economic model and the help London had given Paris during the past century.
What a contrast!
They contrasted the warm sentiments with the frosty relations between the two leaders’ predecessors, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac who fell out, primarily over Iraq.
“Enthusiastic overtures from a French president are hardly unwelcome in Britain, even if an immediate use for them is unclear,” said The Times. “The problem is that what he appears to envisage goes not just beyond what Britain wants, but what he can deliver.”
How, for example, the paper said, would Sarkozy’s hints about bringing France back into NATO’s chain of command after its 42-year absence, square with his idea of an EU army?
The Financial Times noted a wealth of issues continued to threaten Anglo-French relations, not least the Common Agricultural Policy, immigration controls, Britain’s EU budget rebate, mad cow disease and Iraq.
“The history of Anglo-French relations is littered with grand promises of fresh starts that quickly turn mouldy,” it observed.
“That said, (Sarkozy’s) seemingly heartfelt appeal to upgrade the ‘entente cordiale’ to an ‘entente amicale’ is both welcome and timely.”
And “le bling?”
Under the headline “French Dressing,” The Independent, like many other papers, ran a picture gallery of the new First Lady of France, concentrating on the demure grey outfit she wore on arrival at Heathrow.
The reader could be forgiven for thinking one of three things about that ensemble, it said.
“That she had swapped outfits with an air hostess on board, that she had spent weeks studying pictures of Jackie Kennedy and the classic pillbox (hat), or she had renounced being the president’s wife and had taken holy orders. Or possibly all three.”