Sarkozy's revenge! French to get their own London MP
As cross-Channel tensions rise, Parisian politicians prepare to fight for a new seat centred on the UK capital
To the enthusiastic supporter of the entente cordiale, it will be welcome news from across the Channel at a time of difficult Anglo-French relations. But to the arch-Eurosceptic in Britain, it will be viewed, perhaps, as the French finally achieving what Napoleon failed to bring off.
For the first time, from next June, a French MP will take his or her seat as representavie for a new constituency stretching from Dublin to Riga, with its heart in London. The winning candidate will have a seat in Paris's national assembly and will represent the interests of French nationals based in northern Europe, the largest proportion of whom live in the UK capital, where there are thought to be as many as 400,000.
The move will further infuriate Eurosceptics who have revelled in the hot-headed rhetoric from senior French politicians in the past few days over Britain's economic rating, in response to David Cameron's veto in Brussels earlier this month. But to Europhiles, it could be the answer to the most serious threat to Anglo-French harmony for decades.
One of the leading candidates for the northern Europe seat is Axelle Lemaire, the head of the Socialist Party in London. Ms Lemaire, 36, has lived in Britain for the past 10 years and used to work as a researcher in the House of Commons. Last night she said there was a strong bond between the countries that she hoped would survive the current diplomatic storm.
"Living in the UK, I am a close observer of what is going on here," she said. "It is pretty sad that French officials have commented on the British economy. It is not the time to deepen the rift between the countries. We should be doing everything to work together on the economy."
Ms Lemaire criticised French politicians – members of the centre-right UMP party of President Nicolas Sarkozy – as well as George Osborne's comments about France's credit rating earlier this month, which fuelled the spat. "It is a ridiculous thing to say that another country should be downgraded because it has consequences for Britain," she said.
The fallout from Mr Cameron's veto continued to reverberate around Whitehall and Brussels last night. A senior Lib Dem source said coalition harmony was getting "back on track" after Nick Clegg criticised the PM's strategy. The source said there were signs that Mr Cameron was starting to re-engage in Brussels, adding: "We are in a process of gradually getting him [Cameron] down off the ledge."
But Whitehall sources were aghast at how Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne had allowed Anglo-French relations to worsen. One said: "If you are in Paris and get a stream of criticism about the eurozone from Cameron and Osborne and unsolicited advice as to how to put it right, it is not surprising that they decide to dish it out. This may well last until the French elections are over."
But in a further sign of Britain losing its influence, the British chairs of the European Parliament's powerful economic committees could be forced out, undermining claims Mr Cameron was protecting the national interest.
Group leaders are considering if the Lib Dem MEP Sharon Bowles should chair the economic and monetary affairs (EMA) committee or Tory Malcolm Harbour the internal market and consumer protection committee. Ms Bowles is under particular pressure, as her committee is responsible for the scrutiny of the European Central Bank and developing financial regulation across the economic bloc.
Labour's Peter Skinner, who has sat on the EMA for 15 years, said that MEPs were using Mr Cameron's veto to marginalise British interests. "Cameron has jeopardised our influence on upcoming legislation. He's not saved the City, he's put it in greater jeopardy."
Britain's new envoy to the EU: Parlez-vous français? No, actually
One of Britain's top diplomats and Our next Man in Brussels cannot speak a foreign language, it emerged last night.
Sir Jon Cunliffe, the mandarin at the centre of the row over David Cameron's summit veto, is to become the UK's permanent representative to the EU. Currently, the PM's EU affairs adviser, Sir Jon also worked for Gordon Brown at No10 and was the "point man" in the Brussels delegation. Sources have blamed him for failing to speak up for the Foreign Office during the talks.
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