The Frenchman did a wooing go, whether his mother would let him or no.

Listening to President Sarkozy yesterday was a salutary experience. The setting was both splendid, and redolent of more difficult times in Anglo-French relations. Maybe the organisers had a sense of humour, asking our guest to address us in a room dedicated to British royalty and dominated by the hanging of magnificent tapestries of the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. The President spoke with passion, seeking to woo his new friends. He sidestepped the pitfalls of the place brilliantly, referring to times when we had been rivals rather than allies, and valuing the differences in our approach to monarchy, whilst showing understanding and enthusiasm for our democracy.

The address was divided into two parts. The first was all Duke of Alencon – it was 2008 going on 1579. Mr Sarkozy wooed us, praising England and English virtues. He spoke movingly of the sacrifices many British people made to save liberties in Europe in the two world wars. He told us how much he admired our independent freedom loving spirit, and how much it meant to him to be speaking in the Mother of Parliaments to Lords and Commons assembled. He explained how important the UK had been to Europe’s past, and how much he wanted a new alliance or friendship for Europe’s future.

He had in mind a new romance that was not exclusive. He freely confessed his continuing commitment to the Franco-German axis that has been the centrepiece of the EU for many years, and said he understood we would wish to continue our special relationship with the USA and would not wish to sever links with our Commonwealth. His general vision was of us both reforming world institutions together in the name of democracy. He wooed well.

Then I felt we shifted to 1802, and we heard echoes of a different leader of France. Sarkozy came over as a peaceful Napoleon, pursuing French interests with a strong eye for the diplomatic opportunities.It was the spring of peace of that year, with many British politicians rejoicing at the new friendship they had negotiated with Napoleon, travelling to Paris to see more of the powerful phenomenon that had emerged from French political turmoil. Months later Napoleon was frustrated by his unflattering portrayal in the British press, whilst Britain did not feel France’s leader had kept to his promises.

Sarkozy’s vision was not our vision of greater freedom for individuals, companies and institutions. It was not a call to free trade and less regulation, nor a shared passion for less government and less central intervention. His ideas were more Euro socialist than free enterprise democratic, with the French view of Europe gaining a new ally to project it further on the Euro stage. He wanted Britain to join him in an agenda of reform, but not the reforms many of us would want.

Many MPs and peers loved the speech, and heard the President say he now recognised the need to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. They did not reflect on what he went of to say. To him the main problem with the CAP seemed to be that we let in too much agricultural product from outside the EU, not too little. He wants stronger controls over quality and cleanliness to keep out “unwanted “ product. I did not hear him say the CAP is an affront to the developing world and a scandal for domestic consumers, so it should be swept away.

Some heard him say he was much more of an Atlanticist than previous French leaders, and keen on fighting the Taliban. But he did not say France would definitely send more troops to the hottest part of the conflict, and seemed to want to press on with a European defence alliance between the two greatest military powers in Europe on a basis that might not be a strength to NATO.

His language was more Euro protectionist than free trade and free enterprise in the passages that contained any detail at all. He believes in national champions, sector strategies, and all that panoply of governments picking winners that we had to challenge and change in the UK many years ago. He seems to want more laws on employment in the belief that these offer worker protection rather than destroy jobs. He voices the usual EU agenda of solidarity, intervention and protection.

He had studied the views of our Prime Minister well. He played on his wish to join the PM in a Euro drive against climate change, and constantly stressed the Brown catchphrase that the UK has to be engaged in the EU. He reassured us that the era of institutional change in the EU is over and now we can see what can be done with the “reformed” EU of the Lisbon Treaty. There was no institutional changes left showing above the parapet whatever might be going on behind closed doors in Brussels. He offered those of who want less European government nothing, other than his casual admission that Europe is a “difficult” subject on this side of the Channel, and that he had been on the losing side in the permitted French referendum on the EU constitution, which clearly had not phased him. There was no sense of irony in the way he put the two parts of his speech together. The first longer part, was brilliant praise of the different British temperament and interests, seeking an independent freedom loving democracy. The second part was a request that we commit ourselves to a centralised over governed European project that limits and damages those very freedom loving democratic virtues for which we at our best have stood.

My worry is we will as a country pay too high a price for fine French words without seeking delivery of the true reforms for freedom and free enterprise that the UK should expect of its European partners. We should judge the new French President not by his address – it would be wrong to complain that it was too long or too inflexible, or to praise it too highly for its fine sentiments and moving passages about our more recent past together. We should judge him by whether or not the French are now willing to reform the CAP in a way which cuts its costs to consumers and taxpayers and helps the developing world.

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12 Comments

  1. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your ‘insider's’ view of the speech. The media response to this visit is illuminating in its extravagance. It leads me to think that, unlike the majority of the population, they remain gullible to the machinations of politicians. As you so correctly imply it is not the fine words (or the pageantry) that matter but the actions. If, to our cost, Blair taught us nothing else that was surely the overriding lesson from his premiership.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I am gravely saddened by Mr Sarkozy. Sure, politics is the art of the possible, but he seems to be running a vichy style government whilst cowering from the euro-socialists. I'm sure the ample charms of Ms Bruni must be distracting for him, but I do hope "Dave" Cameron will show more mettle when in office.

    I was also very concerned by Mr Sarkozy's refusal to condemn the illegal actions of national governments (namely Germany and the UK) in buying the stolen bank disks from Lichtenstein.

    If there is any point in law, it is surely that we are all bound by it. If I were to encourage a bank employee to breach his fiduciary duty and buy stolen goods from him I could expect a jail sentence. (sentence removed)

    Do you find this action distressing ?

  3. Chuck Unsworth
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Exactly. Deeds not words Рas always. That said, it's nice that the Presidential couple visited us, so elegant, so charming, so soign̩e.

    Quite what good it will have done is another matter.

  4. Puncheon
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for the read-out. However, I feel a little nervous. The last time the French had a spat with the Germans and came running to us ended in utter disaster for millions of our fellow citizens. I have to laugh at our political and media class – they are so so susceptible to flattery. A few soft words from some smooth talking Frenchman and they are all wetting their knickers like so many school-girls. I worked with the French for about 10 years and I can tell you that they see cooperation as a one way street – if you don't get what you want from them before they get what they want from you you can whisle for it. They really do see London as an outer suburb of Paris. What our politicians don't ever seem to realise is that the French use words differently to us, eg when a Frenchman says "I agree in principle" what he actually means is that he cannot agree with anything you say, but can't bring himself to say so to your face. They see everything in terms of Government control and regulation. I once heard a French Minister at a Euro-Council say (and she regarded herself as an economic liberal) " Of course France believes in free markets, provided that the Government sets the prices". She was astounded when all the north European Member States started laughing. Whenever we have got involved with the French "amicalement" it has ended in disaster for us. Stay well clear, I say.

  5. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    It does make one wonder ! France have been a republic since 1870 & this is the best they can do ! France will continue on its downward spiral caused by subsidies to failing industry & farming , EU red tape and high taxes & insane labour market rules and welfarism . Sarko won an election pledging to tackle all this and all Sarko has done is ditch his wife and marry a model while losing local elections by a landslide ! Had the French monarchy remained could the Legitimists , Orleanists or Bonapartists really have ruined France like the Republicans ? After all France is only a republic thanks to the errors of the monarchists in 1789-92 , 1830 , 1848-51 and 1871-73 . Louis XX , Henri VII or Napolean VII ( as their supporters call them ) could not do any worse than the failing Republican elite in France as their nation fails economically . Is it I wonder time for either a Third Bourbon Restoration , a Second July Monarchy or a Third Empire ? Which ever regime they end up with over the Channel they need a good dose of Reagan style tax cutting coupled with Gingrich style public spending cuts . The French exprience proves that big government & higher taxes produce national ruin . If Gordon Brown is so smart why can he not work this out with regard to the UK’s economic policies ? But of course the unions fund Labour so that question answers itself !

  6. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    It does make one wonder ! France have been a republic since 1870 & this is the best they can do ! France will continue on its downward spiral caused by subsidies to failing industry & farming , EU red tape and high taxes & insane labour market rules and welfarism . Sarko won an election pledging to tackle all this and all Sarko has done is ditch his wife and marry a model while losing local elections by a landslide ! Had the French monarchy remained could the Legitimists , Orleanists or Bonapartists really have ruined France like the Republicans ? After all France is only a republic thanks to the errors of the monarchists in 1789-92 , 1830 , 1848-51 and 1871-73 . Louis XX , Henri VII or Napolean VII ( as their supporters call them ) could not do any worse than the failing Republican elite in France as their nation fails economically . Is it I wonder time for either a Third Bourbon Restoration , a Second July Monarchy or a Third Empire ? Which ever regime they end up with over the Channel they need a good dose of Reagan style tax cutting coupled with Gingrich style public spending cuts . The French exprience proves that big government & higher taxes produce national ruin . If Gordon Brown is so smart why can he not work this out with regard to the UK's economic policies ? But of course the unions fund Labour so that question answers itself !

  7. Man in a Shed
    Posted March 28, 2008 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    French foreign policy has always been to develop a series of relationships with Paris at the centre of them all. In that sense there is nothing new about what Sarko is saying – except he knows how to butter up a crowd better than Chirac ever did.

    Anyway, I thought Blair and Brown had gained the CAP review as the concession for surrendering more money to the EU (even though we pay far more of our share than the French).

    It seems they are bargaining again with the same chips they used last time – have pocketed the concessions from Brown and Blair weakly gave away last time.

  8. Peter
    Posted March 28, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Spot on and very much what I feared to be the case. Let's hope it was a carefully calculated exercise in diplomacy and that he is not as federalist as he appears

  9. Iain
    Posted March 28, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Brown and Sarkozy also made some agreement on Nuclear power where John Hutton has called for a significant expansion in Britain's nuclear power industry, and called for the creation of a £20bn industry with 100,000 new jobs – making the UK the gateway to a new nuclear renaissance across Europe.

    If memory serves we used to be that, in fact we used to own one of the worlds leading nuclear power construction companies, Westinghouse. This Gordon Brown flogged off to Toshiba for the knock down price of £2.7 billion, who subsequently landed a $60 billion nuclear power station order from China, where as losses go it has to rate with Gordon Brown flogging off our gold reserves.

    In light of this disasterous short termist thinking I hope our MP's will keep their hands on our third share of Urenco, a uranium processing company, for there was talk of Gordon Brown wanting to flog that off as welll.

  10. tim holden
    Posted March 28, 2008 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    This french man is demonstrably capable of wooing. Our hapless PM is dangerously in need of a friend, and so is susceptible.

    Europe can only assimilate its new and poorer half by being Protectionist. Its restrictions against the Chinese will be cloaked in moral disapproval of any weakness upon which it can seize.

    Brown has probably discovered that a smattering of diplomacy can distract the press from problems at home, so we can now anticipate a fresh series of blunders.

  11. adam
    Posted March 28, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I was informed by a foreign website that in his first speach to the general assembly, Sarkozy called for a UN led world government, to be called "a new world order"
    and for "the common ownership of goods by the common people" and "wealth redistribution."

    The media in their infinite wisdom have taken to referring to him as a pro-american.
    Perhaps he is in as much as his speech appeared pro-British.

    Thought you analysed his speech well.

    Reply:GIVEN HIS VIEWS IT IS EXTRAORDINARY THAT HE IS DEEMED TO BE A CONSERVATIVE

  12. Rose
    Posted March 29, 2008 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating to hear your firsthand account. Our shallow broadcasters made it look more like Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie. Alencon is perceptive.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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