Flat Earth: No parley view for Balladur

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The Independent Online
IS A LACK of O-level French hampering John Major's diplomatic potential? Well, his lack of O-level German has not hampered his regular Kopf zu Kopf with Helmut Kohl, a chancellor whose ability to converse in English goes little beyond asking for another beer. On Thursday, the Prime Minister and Mr Kohl were back-slapping again. But in Paris, our man at the Crillon bar says the silence that greets Mr Major's name was and is deafening.

Our prime minister has not had a tete a tete with Edouard Balladur, France's Gaullist prime minister, since their London summit in July. They did have a chat at the October shindig in Brussels, when the European Community hatched the European Union, but our man says it did not get beyond Balladur asking if Major would like another mineral water.

'Even in the days of handbagging, she was always on the phone to Paris,' our deep throat inside the Hotel Matignon reports. The Leaderene seemed to prefer the French, even though Paris had unhappy memories for her. It will be recalled that Baroness Thatcher, when she was just plain Margaret, tripped lightly down the steps of the British Embassy to reassure an anxious world on live television that she would fight to keep her job - only to go down later that week. She was also wont to give speeches in French, as was the case when exchanging the instruments of the Channel Tunnel Treaty in 1987, handsomely upstaging the resolutely monolingual Francois Mitterrand.

Mr Major's incapacity for languages, however, is no excuse. Mr Balladur speaks English, a skill he needs to deal with his Savile Row tailors. So, if the phone lines no longer hum between Downing Street and the Hotel Matignon, it can only be assumed that Mr Balladur, too, sees no good reason to consult with his cross-Channel chum.

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