Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sarkozy, ou le nouveau Lamartine 

The last time any French government made a particular strong point on being positive about Britain was during the Second Republic of 1848-1852.
Indeed it was the most anglophile administration in French history, even including the period of the establishment of the Entente Cordiale. Much talk about learning from British institutions, working together, and adopting similar commercial and economic strategies. Britain was for almost the only time in French history described in positive terms, and held up as a model to be copied.

The poet Alphonse de Lamartine was effectively head of government in the chaotic five-member executive and specialised in ringing declarations of intent including some of the most Liberal propositions ever floated in mainstream French politics..

Despite (or possibly because of) this rhetorical attempt to shift French foreign and domestic policy the Republic collapsed into the authoritarian nationalist and state-sponsored economic backwaters of the Second Empire. Lamartine was forced into an obscure retirement.

Visiting President Sarkozy of France is using his time here to make positive statements about ‘working together’ with Britain, and even (so far) avoiding comments about the food.

I hope that both he and Brown (or at least their respective advisors) are familiar with the entertaining book ‘That Sweet Enemy’ and are working on ways to avoid the worse of the stereotypes we have of each other. A necessary humility to underpin any ‘entente formidable’ or even ‘amicale’. Back home though, we can expect Sarkozy’s opponents gleefully to exploit the gut-distrust of the French political groupuscules towards ‘Anglo-Saxon liberalism’. Tests will come when the President has to match actions with words.

‘Voyons voir’ as my relatives in Burgundy say.

Reference: Robert and Isabelle Tombs ‘That Sweet Enemy; the French and the British from the Sun King to the present’ otherwise sub-titled ‘a history of a love-hate relationship’. See here for a review.

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