Bastille Day snub to RAF marks new Anglo-French bitterness

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AS GERMAN troops rolled through Paris yesterday, it was disclosed that organisers of the annual 14 July military parade had scrapped an invitation to the RAF to take part in the accompanying flypast.

The RAF had offered to send four Tornados to fly over the Avenue des Champs-Elysees but the French authorities decided against it four months ago, official sources said. The decision came against a background of worsening relations between London and Paris.

Sources said the French thought the presence of the British aircraft 'would have sent the wrong message'. Reflecting the close ties with Bonn, the French government decided to include the Eurocorps, the mainly French and German brigade set up last year.

Yet this past spring had been billed as a Franco-British festival. It started in April with a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale. In May, came the inauguration of the Channel tunnel and in June the 50th anniversary of D-Day. But with Britain's veto of Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Prime Minister of Belgium, as the new European Commission President at the Corfu summit last month, it has ended in bitterness.

There is a good deal of hurt on both sides. The French cannot understand the hostile British commentaries portraying their decision to send troops to Rwanda as an attempt to increase French influence in Africa rather than a simple humanitarian mission.

Britain feels its role in the Normandy landings was minimised in the D-Day ceremonies while the Americans were treated more warmly. The Queen is said to have complained privately that President Francois Mitterrand had been offhand with her.

The Channel tunnel opening demonstrated an inherent British nihilism, the French say: while France was merely adding a seventh land frontier, its celebrations were more grandiose than those in Britain, where talk was of delays in putting the tunnel into service rather than of a great engineering achievement.

Then came Corfu. Some sources say the British Cabinet had reviewed the candidates for the Commission presidency and decided Mr Dehaene was acceptable. John Major's anger at what he saw as a French and German attempt to force a decision, ending in his veto, is seen as self-defeating.

'We could have ended up with Ruud Lubbers (the Dutch Prime Minister) who was Britain's second choice and ours too,' said a senior French government source yesterday.

Sir Christopher Mallaby, the British ambassador in Paris, ticked off Le Figaro for a hostile editorial on Britain after Corfu.

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