France's "bling bling" President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has recast himself in the mould of statesman, laying down an ambitious vision of "a new Franco-British brotherhood for the 21st century" in which the two countries could unite to influence the world.
Addressing a joint session of both Houses of Parliament yesterday, on the first day of a state visit to Britain, M. Sarkozy cantered through history to argue that Britain and France were united by more than divided them, listing the contemporary similarities ranging from GDP to defence priorities.
Calling for an "entente amicale" to replace the 104-year-old entente cordiale alliance, he urged Britain to take its place at the heart of Europe.
"France and the United Kingdom have an important role to play," he said. "By uniting our strengths and determination we can contribute to the emergence of a new globalisation – freer, fairer, more responsible, more just.
"Together we are necessarily stronger than standing side by side, let alone standing against one another," he said. "That is the political message I want to get across to you today."
His eloquent speech in French almost, but perhaps not entirely, managed to banish thoughts of the nude photograph of his new wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, published in yesterday's tabloids. That had cast a shadow over the visit, and the former supermodel sat demurely behind him on the platform in the ornate Royal Gallery, dressed in black and grey.
M. Sarkozy's British audience applauded him repeatedly as he departed frequently from prepared remarks to deliver his fervent appeals for a new era in cross-Channel relations, "from the bottom of my heart".
He confirmed that he would announce an increase in the number of French troops in Afghan-istan at next week's Nato summit, although he did not indicate how many nor say whether they would be deployed in the violent south of the country. "It is forbidden to be defeated," he said, to a further round of applause.
M. Sarkozy argued that Britain and France had an "eminent" role to play in reforming global organisations including the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Gordon Brown, who was in the audience with his wife, Sarah, echoed that view in an interview in yesterday's Le Monde, in which he also expressed support for Tony Blair as the first President of Europe.
M. Sarkozy's 45-minute speech, ahead of last night's state banquet at Windsor Castle, where 150 guests feasted on brill and lamb, prompted a standing ovation. As the audience filed out of the hall, the Conservative former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind praised M. Sarkozy's description of both the US and Britain as France's "natural allies". But, he added: "Let's see if these aspirations are translated into policy."
The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, also a former foreign secretary, said it was "courageous" of M. Sarkozy to insist on his liberal reform agenda in France while holding up Britain as a model.
The President and his wife slept at Windsor Castle last night, where they are the guests of the Queen, who said at the banquet, "growing closer still as friends, our nations have much to celebrate". The visit concludes today with a summit with Mr Brown at Arsenal's stadium.Reuse content