Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Centenary of the Entente Cordiale

I am just one day out of date on the centenary of our informed and informal understanding with France. Jack Straw celebrated with a puff piece that skimmed over history and noted how much we had in common. Politicians and diplomats tend to love this spin but the speech, held in Paris rather than London, was designed to reassure a European audience that Great Britain remained wedded to integration:

Neither of us wants a federal European superstate. It would not work; and our citizens would not be comfortable with it. Both of us want a Europe of nations - and a Europe which works.

The negotiations on a new constitutional treaty for the EU have been living proof that the EU is an organisation of sovereign member states who have to reach agreements among themselves for the work of the Union to go forward.

The government has made no concessions on the current suspension of negotations on the European Constitution and continues to support the centralised structures, reinforced by intergovernmental institutions, that the Constitution was designed for.

As permanent members of the Security Council and with our effective armed forces, Britain and France have also led efforts to develop an effective European Security and Defence Policy. This enables Europe to act on its own to protect and advance its interests, to act with NATO support, or indeed better to support NATO through stronger military capabilities. France played the key role in both of the first two operations - in Macedonia and in the Bunia province of the DRC. We are now working to plan for an EU-led force to replace NATO in Bosnia.

Working his audience, Straw also lauded the current progress towards a single European defence identity and France's key role in this endeavour. The differences over Iraq were skimmed over, the United Nations was praised as the central body of a rules based internationalsim and the United States was notable for its absence, although the ghost dominated this affair, like any other. UPI also noted the absence of the 60th anniversary of D-Day from the planned celebrations.

But one date is almost absent on the calendar: June 6, the anniversary of D-Day. It is not one of the top official Entente Cordiale events, though it is the 60th and probably last major commemoration of the Normandy landings in 1944. Diplomatic sources say this is because it is more of a celebration of the British and Americans coming to the rescue of the French rather than something the French can share equally with the Brits, and President George W. Bush has not yet announced whether he will attend. That announcement may not come until the Americans and French resolve their differences over Iraq.

This speech was padded out because Straw found that that the entente cordiale no longer exists in substance. As Andrew Roberts pointed out in the Daily Mail, we were dragged into two world wars, Suez, and long-term ruination for an unreliable ally. It has been replaced by the larger suprantional entity, the European Union, and Anglo-French agreement is now based on the ideological and political premises of membership. This will prove no more successful in the long run.

(23.04, 13th January 2004)


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