Warm welcome in France for Blair

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The Independent Online
Excitement is mounting in the tiny French village of Saint-Martin-d'Oydes as residents prepare to welcome the Prime Minister, his wife Cherie and their three children. The family will stay in the 12th century country house belonging to the judge David Keene QC, and the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin will be staying around 20 miles away. It is likely that the two prime ministers will meet informally some time next week.

Mr Blair will also be able to bask in the praise and support of the French Socialists, who were delighted by his electoral victory. Speaking from his holiday home in the southern region of Bouches-du-Rhone, Jack Lang, the President of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Socialist MP and former Minister of Culture during the Mitterand years, will not hear a bad word said against the British Prime Minister. "The new Labour government has a fresh, young spirit about it that shows great promise for the future," he said.

"Although I found the electoral campaign somewhat reserved and cautious, I have been very impressed by the proposals of the Government over the last three months, particularly regarding decentralisation, health and education."

Mr Lang draws parallels between France in 1981 and Britain today. In 1981, President Mitterrand became the first ever Socialist president and appointed the first left-wing government for over two decades. He remained in power for 14 years, leading a left wing government for ten of those.

"The mood of both the Government and the people during this period in France was very similar to that in Britain today. People had a new confidence and enthusiasm, as well as a strong sense of liberation. This atmosphere is very important if the Government is to be successful."

The French Socialist party of today has not modernised as much as New Labour has. Mr Jospin's approach is still far more interventionist, compared with Mr Blair's more liberal approach. But Mr Lang explains that "this difference in policy is due more to a difference in culture and tradition, than to a fundamental difference in ideology." He is keen to underline the two leaders' "common interest in human rights and social causes, as well as a growing, dynamic economy."

Mr Lang is equally enthusiastic about the Labour government's foreign policy. "It is positive, constructive and progressive, incorporating an international humanitarian vision'. Mr. Lang has even written to the French foreign and defence ministers, Hubert Vedrine and Alain Richard, advising them to follow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook's lead in banning arms sales to countries with poor human rights records.

Mr Lang believes that Mr Blair's European policy is in keeping with British politics. However, he is convinced that the single currency will go ahead as planned in 1999, and he also believes that Britain will enter at some stage, although probably not in the first round.

"If the Government and the people need more time, so be it. It is better that Britain enters in her own time and of her own accord, rather than being forced ... Mr. Blair is serious and attentive in his approach to European affairs and I believe that he will come to the right decision." - that Britain is better off in than out.