UK warned off French 'flirtation'

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AN ARTICLE in the influential paper Le Monde has taken Brtitish diplomacy to task for trying to sway the future of the European Union by means of a concerted charm offensive towards France.

"Albion," the frontpage article said, was "making sheep's eyes" at its old enemy in the hope of "influencing the destiny of Europe via Paris."

The whole tenor of the article by Jean-Pierre Langellier, was that France should have no truck with such overtures and that the differences between the two countries were still greater than what they had in common. Its prominence and length suggested that, while this was clearly the view of a single commentator, it might reflect a wider feeling of frustration with British advances in some official circles.

As France took over the European presidency at the beginning of the year it was an open secret that Britain was working hard behind the scenes to gain a more sympathetic hearing in Europe, and had detected signs that the French might be more open than before to some of Britain's views.

Langellier's article concedes that the British had grounds for hoping to woo the French. But, he went on, all this amounted to no more than a "flirtation." It was not sufficient to justify "setting up home together." For alongside the old quarrels about the Common Agricultural Policy, foreign trade and the Social Chapter, "the two countries still do not share the same vision of the future of the Old Continent."

For France, he said, being "at the heart of Europe" remained a "necessity."

He noted John Major's parliamentary difficulties that had made him a "hostage of the Euro sceptics," but asked whether, in courting France, Britain's main aim was not to sow dissention in the Franco-German alliance.