Warmer cross- channel relations

Connexion edition: August 2007

THE new French and British leaders Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown have hailed their recent first talks in Paris as a warmer phase in cross-channel relations.

For their first encounter in office, the two men discussed the gamut of international issues including global warming, Darfur, African development, the Middle East and Iran’s nuclear threat, officials said. The crisis in British relations with Russia was also on the table, following the tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats in the row over the killing of dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

France has expressed its solidarity with Britain in its stand-off with Moscow and Brown was expected to thank Sarkozy for resisting pressure from Russia for a less clear-cut response. The two men agreed on the need for new ways to encourage people to buy environmentally-friendly versions of products, including lowering VAT on them. As for the crisis-stricken Sudanese region Darfur, they agreed to push for a UN/African Union peace-keeping force there and said they were prepared to visit if such a resolution was passed.

The trip to Paris is Brown’s second abroad since taking office in June - his first was to Germany. A Downing Street official said: “It’s a chance for them to set out their thoughts in key areas where we have shared interests and concerns.” Sarkozy and Brown met while they were both serving as finance ministers in 2004, and each has spoken admiringly of the other. Officials in both governments hope their relationship will mark an improvement on the often strained ties between Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair, who disagreed on EU farm reform and the war in Iraq.

Shared

Le Monde newspaper said the men had shared characteristics: “Strong-willed, even domineering, personalities; impatience to get on with the job; determination to reform; a desire to break with the past; and a sharp sense of each country’s national identity.”

Sarkozy, who wants to overhaul the French economy, has made no secret of his admiration for the liberalising policies of the British government. However differences are still likely to emerge between the two leaders over Europe and globalisation. Brown is reputed to be unenthusiastic about the EU, while Sarkozy has pushed hard to restart the process of European integration. Also, at last month’s EU summit, the French president succeeded in having a commitment to unfettered competition removed from the text of a proposed new European treaty, which is said to have alarmed Brown. British officials have also expressed reservations about Sarkozy’s support for protecting European industries against foreign competition and for more political control of the euro.

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