More Anglo-French teamwork makes entente formidable
Two countries agree widespread coordination of policies
Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour
Friday March 28 2008
Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday tried to put substance into their new “entente formidable” with plans for more regular Anglo-French meetings, closer defence ties, nuclear cooperation and a more coordinated foreign policy. Following their summit meeting at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium yesterday, the two leaders agreed on a timetable of bilateral contacts that would make Britain's relationship with France its most systematic and institutionalised partnership.
Government officials will meet every quarter, senior ministers every six months and the leaders every year. The two countries will get together before big international meetings to agree common positions. They will collaborate on big defence contracts, assemble a reserve “force” of civilian experts ready to deploy in post-conflict zones or failing states and take a common stand on a range of global issues from UN reform to financial regulation, climate change and trade.
For a second day Sarkozy drenched his hosts with flattery, saying Brown had been one of the best finance ministers Europe had known. In response, the prime minister appeared to relax and warm visibly to his guest.
Sarkozy insisted his assiduous courtship represented a lasting commitment to the bilateral relationship. “It is not simply a matter of a one-night stand. I believe that we can go into next-day breakfast as well,” he said, adding that the two nations would work “hand in hand” on the world stage.
Brown described the summit as historic and said the relationship had gone from an “entente cordiale” to an “entente amicable” to an “entente formidable”.
This is what that “wonderful understanding” amounts to so far:
Defence and peacekeeping
France will send more troops into combat against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Exact details are to be left until next week's Nato summit in Bucharest, but French officials say the new troops will be sent to the east of the country. The deployment could free US troops to support the British and Canadians in the south. In return, Britain will support a French effort to strengthen European decision-making and planning within Nato.
Both countries will cooperate when it comes to ordering and buying military equipment in an attempt to save money, reduce duplication and ensure the armed forces from both countries can work closely together.
In particular, France and Britain will try to draw up a single contract with Airbus for the production and delivery of a new troop transporter, the A400M. They will each put 50m (39m) into shared research and development projects. They will also set up a joint fund to make helicopters, currently a scarce resource, available for European and Nato operations.
Sarkozy has agreed to sign up to one of Brown's favourite initiatives – the creation of a rapid-reaction reserve force of police, doctors, lawyers, judges and engineers, to help stabilise fragile states recovering from conflict.
The two sides agreed to step up cooperation to prevent the flow of illegal immigrants from Calais and agreed to work towards a new migration pact that might lead to a common asylum policy for the EU. The joint action plan to tackle the migrant pressure at Calais will include exchange of data to enhance identification, cooperation on redocumentation and joint flights where necessary to deport illegal migrants. The French believe Britain has a better policy and developed expertise on deportations. In practice, most joint flights would be to Africa or the Indian subcontinent.
Extra money is to be spent on improving the quality of the fencing at Calais; a recent House of Lords committee report highlighted inadequate security fencing at the port, saying it believed as many as 1,000 illegal migrants a year were getting into Britain as a result.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, has also been working with his French counterpart to ensure that a new hostel for migrants was not built at Calais or anywhere else on the Channel coast. France is very enthusiastic about a common immigration policy for the whole of Europe.
Britain backs many elements of the immigration pact, including the proposal that no EU country offers a mass immigration amnesty, as has happened in Spain and Italy. But the UK is sceptical about the idea of a single definition of asylum.
In his speech to parliament on Wednesday, Sarkozy said: “It would be illusory to imagine we could have 27 different national immigration policies. France and Britain know this full well. We have developed quite exemplary bilateral policy and I believe that it is of the essence that we have some kind of European immigration covenant or pact.”
The communique promises to “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of nuclear development projects … to share information on nuclear safety, security and waste management, action which could be extended to other European partners.”
This is seen within the Business and Enterprise Department and the French delegations as an important signal that the French and UK nuclear industries can work closely as Britain prepares to expand its nuclear industry. Britain will lean on French nuclear industry skills at least in the initial stage of expansion.
The two sides made no mention of the British EU budget rebate or the future of the common agricultural policy in the communique, but the two leaders admitted continuing differences on the issue at their press conference.
The two countries will push to make the UN security council more representative. They want Germany, Brazil, India and Japan as permanent members, as well as one or two African states. In the face of resistance from existing permanent members, they have come up with a compromise – the creation of a category of member with long, renewable terms.
The two countries will also spearhead an effort to restructure the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Aid and development
An Anglo-French partnership will fund school places for a total of 16 million children in Africa by 2010, with the aim of helping to meet a UN target of universal primary education by 2015.