Leading article: A modest start that could mark a historic European shift

Co-operation, designed in such a way as to cover gaps and exploit strengths, makes good sense

Related Topics

For a Conservative Prime Minister who is reputed to share a good deal of his party's euro-scepticism, David Cameron seems increasingly to be discovering his inner Europhile. After a Brussels summit in which he made common cause with 10 other leaders to endorse an increase in the EU budget – an achievement successfully spun for British voters as a principled British triumph over EU extravagance – Mr Cameron entertained Chancellor Merkel at Chequers, before welcoming President Sarkozy to London for the signing of two treaties on defence co-operation. Old Europe would seem to be back in a big way.

Not, of course, that this is how the British-French agreements were presented yesterday. There was no hint that they might in time form the genesis of a European defence policy – though this should not be ruled out – they were seen rather as a bilateral arrangement between Europe's two largest defence players, both nuclear powers, reflecting a convergence of self-interest. Nor would it be wrong to regard the treaties in this light. Enemies they may once have been, and rivals in many ways they remain, but Britain and France share a respect for their own and each other's military heritage. They have been, and preserve, the sense of being global powers, and have unfinished business beyond Europe. They have also engaged in joint diplomatic visits, notably to Africa, in the recent past. There is more than enough common ground to make closer co-operation worthwhile.

There should be no mystery about why Britain and France have decided to enhance their co-operation precisely now. With budgets in both countries under strain, the defence sectors are under particular pressure to reduce costs – costs that are especially hard to cut because of their long-term nature, contractual obligations and the wide range of contingencies to be catered for. Both countries also have combat forces to maintain in Afghanistan, as well as smaller groups elsewhere, and want to avoid anything that would convey an acceptance of second or even third-class military status.

Co-operation, designed in such a way as to cover possible gaps and exploit complementary strengths, while not jeopardising independence of action, makes eminently good sense. But this does not mean that there are not questions to be asked about what the agreements – not just those enshrined in treaties – will mean in practice. Collaboration on nuclear testing technology, where France is very far advanced in computer simulation, is a quite specific step forward. Provision for joint training and for special forces to work under British or French command may make for greater operational effectiveness. But troops from both countries are by now quite used to working alongside others as part of international alliances. So this may not represent a great change.

Naturally, misgivings were voiced, both in anticipation of yesterday's summit and after the fact. Old enmities were recalled to cast doubt on the feasibility of closer British-French cooperation, while practicalities were also queried. The prospect of a single, shared, aircraft carrier at sea at any one time prompted a pointed enquiry about what might happen if a new Falklands crisis erupted when only the French carrier was available. To which there is an answer that Mr Cameron, briefly reduced to ambiguity, could not give – though it is the truth.

The time for Falklands wars, as for new Iraqs or even Afghanistans, is over. The future of Britain's defences may not yet be as European in complexion as it could and should be, but the principle of seeking allies across the Channel, rather than across the Atlantic, has now been set, and that marks a historic shift.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page


In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine