Gerard Errera: Britain and France have a good deal in common

From a speech by the French Ambassador at the London School of Economics
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There is a prevailing perception that our two countries [France and Britain] live on different planets, both in domestic terms as well as in their foreign policy. Well, this is not the case. The state is no longer the dominant actor in the economic or industrial field. This is true in the UK as well as France. Central government has given power back to local and regional assemblies. What we call decentralisation began in the early 1980s and is continuing. Your country started a similar process with devolution.

Modernising our public services is at the top of the agendas of both our governments whether in education, health, pensions. We must address the same problems. We have to reconcile conflicting needs to ensure universal provision of services with an increasingly diverse public demand. We must provide higher standards of quality while controlling the costs. Another imperative is to put knowledge and innovation at the heart of our economies so they can prosper and compete in a globalised world.

We both need to ensure the cohesion of the social fabric of our societies. Our societies are more and more complex and diverse. Our task is to balance the need for openness with a strong sense of identity. Equally, we are constantly striving to reconcile the principle of solidarity between citizens, which is at the heart of the European social philosophy, with the need to allow the market economy to work.

France and Britain are not a world apart. They face the same domestic challenges and have an interest in comparing their experiences.