Paris and London seek new entente

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BRITAIN and France will today try to put forward a new version of the Entente Cordiale, as President Francois Mitterrand and the Prime Minister, Eduard Balladur, visit London. The growing closeness reflects the evolution of a triangular relationship between Britain, Germany and France. Traditionally the European Community has been based on the Franco-German alliance.

Though officials in London and Paris said last week that few substantive agreements were likely, they emphasised the tone was likely to be much improved from previous discussions.

Both Britain and France have been irritated by US policy initiatives, such as the attempt to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Serbs. Co-ordination between Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and Alain Juppe, his opposite number, has been evident inside the EC.

Both France and Britain have also had difficulty with Germany's line on the Bosnian crisis and this has contributed to problems in the Paris-Bonn axis.

The mood will be improved by Mr Major's success in finally getting the Maastricht treaty through Parliament. Mr Balladur and his party are much closer to the Conservative line on Europe than either the French Socialist party or the German Christian Democrats, with whom the Conservatives have more formal links.

The European Monetary System is likely to be discussed. France is fighting a wave of speculative attacks on the franc, and is seeking to avoid a British-style exit from the system.

Britain may press France over its recalcitrant position on world trade talks, the most sensitive issue between the two countries. The new government has repeated the line of its predecessor that an agricultural deal between the US and the EC must be renegotiated, something that is anathema to Britain.