These two fractious leaders should focus on what unites them, not on their divisions

Share
Related Topics

Behind the parlour entertainments at Windsor tonight, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac have important work to do building bridges. The Channel, after all, has never seemed wider than in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. It was only 20 months ago that British ministers were queuing up to denounce "the French", prompting a public protest from the French ambassador. Though neither will want to rehearse old arguments, Iraq remains significant because it underpins the two leaders' very different visions of world affairs, which are not easily reconciled.

Behind the parlour entertainments at Windsor tonight, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac have important work to do building bridges. The Channel, after all, has never seemed wider than in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. It was only 20 months ago that British ministers were queuing up to denounce "the French", prompting a public protest from the French ambassador. Though neither will want to rehearse old arguments, Iraq remains significant because it underpins the two leaders' very different visions of world affairs, which are not easily reconciled.

Curiously, while the two nations' leaders have been bickering, relations between their citizens have become ever closer. A generation of ambitious young French people has taken advantage of Britain's buoyant labour market, while a growing tribe of older Britons chooses to spend its retirement in Provence and the Dordogne. Some elements of the jingoistic press may believe that invoking the spirit of Harfleur remains popular, but it jars with most people's experiences.

Although the shadow of Iraq will continue to loom over the two leaders, there are areas where the two governments are increasing their co-operation. On climate change, third-world development and the International Criminal Court, there is close agreement. Above all, both Mr Blair and M. Chirac are personally committed to helping Africa; the issue rightly weighs heavily on the conscience of the two ex-colonial powers.

Less than 20 miles from the EU borders, many Africans face problems of suffering and survival that dwarf the difficulties facing Europeans. Britain has taken the lead in drawing the tragedy of Darfur to world attention, although it is still only the Bush administration that has used the "genocide" word. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than three million people have died in a conflict that has drawn in seven countries, the French are leading international operations in the east.

The British Army showed in Sierra Leone that a killing field can be averted with only a small number of well-trained troops quickly deployed. By contrast, France's five thousand troops in Ivory Coast, there to uphold a truce between the government and rebels, have lost the trust of both. The French, dare we suggest, could draw useful lessons from Britain's conduct in Sierra Leone if they are not to get bogged down in a protracted conflict. Given the nature of the retooled Bush administration, only Europe is likely to take on peace-keeping missions in fly-blown states that don't have oil wells or vital strategic interests. And it is only Britain and France that have the hardware and troops to carry out viable actions. Now is the time for the two former colonial powers to stop concentrating efforts on areas traditionally seen as in their sphere of influence and to start acting in unison.

An EU force is now active in Kosovo, but it is far from the "rapid-reaction" force originally promised. Both leaders should emerge tonight with a clear timetable for when it will be operational. Equally, much can be achieved through diplomacy. Robin Cook and his French opposite number hatched plans for "embassy-sharing" in Africa in the late 1990s - with British diplomats seconded to Francophone countries and vice versa. The plan fell victim to bureaucratic inertia and strategic rivalry; it should be revived by the two countries taking the lead in debt relief.

Even on the Common Agricultural Policy, the cause of so much misery in developing countries, there could be movement. Though M. Chirac remains a staunch defender of the protectionist policies that price African farmers out of the market, he has shown he might be willing to cut back on aid to European sugar farmers - the most damaging subsidy of all.

Now is the time for political leaders to catch up with the peoples of the two countries. What better project to develop Anglo-French relations than a credible plan for joint action on Africa?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Patrick Cockburn: Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
The Port Eliot Festival  

How to keep it real and escape from the screen this summer

Simon Kelner
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on