After the "entente fiscale", it was time for the "entente environmentale". A day after agreeing to impose a supertax on big bonuses for bankers, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy got out their begging bowl yesterday and asked other European Union nations to throw in money to help Africa to tackle the effects of climate change.
The Prime Minister and French President put on a public show of unity for the second day running at an EU summit in Brussels. They linked the two issues of the moment by proposing that bankers might foot the bill for combating climate change. They called on the International Monetary Fund to consider the use of a tax on financial transactions, and an aviation and shipping fuel tax to fund longer-term climate measures.
A week earlier, relations between the two leaders were so fraught after a row over the share-out of the European Commission's top jobs that they couldn't even agree to meet when Mr Sarkozy planned a London visit. So in Brussels they worked overtime to convince the world that they had buried the hatchet.
Not everything went according to plan. At a rare joint appearance in the French briefing room, Mr Brown sought to outflank the hyperactive Mr Sarkozy. He bounced on to the stage and helped the diminutive French President on to it with a hand-up as though he were a frail elderly relative. Mr Sarkozy did not look amused. Mr Brown then spoke first, even though the press conference was on French territory.
Soon, however, Mr Sarkozy was smiling. "Nicolas Sarkozy is one of my best friends," insisted Mr Brown. "We are working closely together on all the major issues." In turn, the French President used the "entente" word five times as he praised his friend "Gordon". He insisted that the "entente cordiale" was its strongest for many years: "Where there are areas of disagreement, we sit down and see where we can agree."
The two men will co-chair a conference with African leaders in Paris next Wednesday to try to narrow differences over funds to combat deforestation. They may then travel together to the Copenhagen summit as it reaches its climax.
Although their display of unity ended with a warm handshake, not everyone was convinced. One diplomat from another EU country said: "We all know it's just for show that they suddenly appear to be the best of friends." Another official said: "It's not exactly all sweetness and light. The problem is they are both impulsive politicians, and think they can solve everything by being dynamic. So they are bound to crash into each other."
Indeed, Mr Sarkozy did not mention his friend Gordon later when he held a solo press conference. Normal service resumed as he said that that there would be no EU unless France worked closely with Germany.
Mr Brown's persistence paid off when the Brussels summit agreed to raise the amount of money the EU will contribute to an £18bn three-year global fund to help developing nations reduce the rise in their carbon emissions and switch to low carbon industries. The size of the "fast start" fund is a key issue in the Copenhagen talks.
Britain will provide the largest slice – £1.5bn over the three years to 2012 – of the EU's £7bn contribution to the world fund. Mr Brown had to almost double the UK's share from £800m to cajole other EU members, including Italy, to chip in. Eventually, all 27 EU nations coughed up, but Romania found only £5,000 a year, Latvia £10,000 a year and Estonia £1m a year.
The British money will come from the existing budget of the Department for International Development already earmarked for climate change projects.
Decoded: The EU summit
*He said: "Nicolas Sarkozy is one of my best friends. We are working closely together on all the major issues."
*What he meant: "Sarko rubbed my nose in it after he outfoxed my plan to stop the French landing the most important European commissioner's job in charge of the internal market and financial services. But I need his support on bashing the bankers and getting a deal at Copenhagen so we must kiss and make-up – in public, at least."
*He said: "Thank you, Gordon... We are the two countries that are pushing Europe on these far-reaching, ambitious goals [on climate change]."
*He meant: "Germany is more important than Britain and I'd rather play footsie with Angela Merkel. But I went over the top by claiming victory over the Commission jobs and upset poor old Brown when he's got enough problems at home. So we'd better patch it up before it gets out of hand."Reuse content