A verbal war that is very one-sided

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View From France

Oh goody, goody, verbal war has broken out again across the Channel.

It has been a while since we had a good Anglo-French slanging match. What was the last one all about? The Sangatte refugee camp? The great beef war of 1999?  Jacques Chirac's refusal to invade Iraq in 2003?

Here is something strange, though. The French press and people have not joined in. Annoyingly, they rarely do.

Parts of the British media have been re-enacting the Battle of Waterloo with their traditional weaponry: insults, moral certainty, exaggeration. The French media have, so far, refused to fight.

The aggressive, teasing and unhelpful comments made about Britain in recent days by President Nicolas Sarkozy, the French central bank governor and the French finance minister have scarcely been reported in France.

Mr Sarkozy's suggestion, to a private political gathering, that David Cameron behaved in Brussels like a "stubborn kid",  was buried in an article in a French investigative newspaper. It made headlines in Britain but none in France.

The central bank governor, Christian Noyer's suggestion that Britain, not France, should lose its Triple A debt rating was made in an interview with a local newspaper in Brittany. It has scarcely been reported in the French national media.

The French finance minister (and Harry Potter lookalike) Francois(cedilla on c) Baroin has now twice suggested that France's economy is in better shape than Britain's. This is silly: like boasting that you would prefer to drive on a flat tyre than an empty petrol tank. There has been some coverage of Mr Baroin's remarks in France but not very much.

The French government is clearly miffed with what it sees as Britain's unhelpful approach to the Euro crisis. It is trying to distract from its own problems, such as the probability that its "triple A" debt rating will be downgraded in the near future.

The remarks by Mr Sarkozy (in private) and Messrs Noyer and Baroin (in public) were foolish.  But they have not succeded in diverting the gaze of the French media and the French people from their own problems: the gathering recession in France implied by new figures published yesterday; or the continuing threat to the survival of the Euro.

Those same ill-judged remarks have been exploded out of all context and proportion in Britain.  Mr Noyer has been called a "traitor and an "imbecile". Mr Baroin is the new poster boy for the "gall of Gaul".

French bashing - an incessant stream of negative reporting and commentary - is one of the staples of the British media. But our cross-Channel warriors claim the pathological right of the bully through the ages: to bash foreigners and not to be bashed in return.

None of that is new. What is new is the gravity of the common problems faced by both nations. It is time to calm down. We are all clinging to the same life raft.

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