The Entente Cordiale


With both the UK and France racked with debt, the scope for a closer relationship – on several fronts – is increasing.

Whilst the myths of Agincourt and the battlefields of Waterloo have been widely cited, the pivotal announcements this week by the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy should be partly welcomed.

Nonetheless, major differences - as illustrated by the Iraq issue - abide.

Irrespective of the Coalition’s contentious decisions about the UK’s new aircraft carriers, arranging overhauls to dove-tail with their French equivalents is sensible, along with ensuring that the relevant fighter aircraft can operate inter-changeably.

Nonetheless, some commentators will rightly see this development as the ‘thin end of a wedge’.

In particular, it raises the question whether the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent, Trident, will forever remain independent, even if its use – without US agreement – is virtually inconceivable.

Is the Trident replacement now destined to involve the French nuclear Force de Frappe?

There will be financial concerns, too, given that French participation in several grand projets has given rise to vast overruns – think Eurofighter, the A400M transporter plane and the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft project.

More generally, closer involvement with France may lead to the UK’s new nuclear-build programme being dominated by EdF, over 80% of whose shares are owned by the French Government.

And, of course, the French will want support for the wretched Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that might well have been invented by the Soviet control economy of the 1950s.

Apart from benefiting a few grain barons, the CAP has provided minimal benefit for the UK – and precious little for many Europeans.

Irrespective of the evolving relationship with France, there should be no compromise on the CAP, whose abolition is long overdue.

But is it in the UK’s long-term interest to become too attached to France or c’est la vie?