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Franco-British row: Another 100-year war?

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Franco-British row: Another 100-year war?

By Paul Reynolds

World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac side by side

Blair and Chirac: getting personal

You can always depend on the British and French to turn an argument into a row.

Having witnessed them over many years, I have tried to identify the various rules governing these encounters.

# There is no closed season. Each side can attack the other whenever it wants. The subject doesn't really matter. This is the 100-years war by other means. The key thing is to maintain the offensive on whatever front.

# Each party knows that the other can take it. It is a way of continuing history - with nobody killed. France and the UK know underneath that not since Waterloo have they come to blows nor will they again.

The Entente may not be that Cordiale but it is now 101 years old. Both love this at heart. They are two sides of the same coin - both nationalistic, proud and prickly. And a bit absurd to others.

# This is an exclusive Franco-British club. It is evenly matched. Nobody else can join. It is impossible, for example, to bring the Germans in. They might take it too seriously and history is just a bit too sensitive. And nobody else counts. You cannot have such fun with Luxembourg.

# Treat the other side's arguments with contempt. You present your own, of course, as gospel. Thus, the French see nothing but good in the common agriculture policy and the British see nothing but bad. The same is true with the rebate. You must never concede that the other fellow might have a point. Not in public anyway.

# Blame the other side for your own failings. In the recent referendum the French blamed the Brits for something called "Anglo-Saxon" attitudes and policies which were apparently threatening to ruin France. The counter charge is that European (meaning French-inspired) bureaucracy is strangling the plucky Brits.

# You can turn this personal if all else fails. Margaret Thatcher used to scowl and rail about "they" during the heights of the original rebate rows. "They" were any Frenchmen. She never forgave the French for their ambivalent attitude, as she saw it and she saw it only one way, towards the Falklands War.

I am sure there must be other rules. It is certainly a very intense game.

Most of these rules apply to the current spat.

Tony and Jacques

Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac are not so chummy anymore.

It all started off well enough. Uncle Jacques kept on saying how fond he was of the Blair's baby - little Leo.

Then, as now, they fell out over the common agricultural policy. In 2002, Uncle Jacques turned on his friend and said: "You have been very badly brought up." For a boy educated at the fine Fettes College in Edinburgh, that must have stung.

Next it was Iraq. Serious differences turned nasty. The French were incensed that the British accused Mr Chirac of refusing a second Security Council resolution whatever the circumstances. A false charge, said Paris. But it was too late. London had someone to blame.

It all started off well enough. Uncle Jacques kept on saying how fond he was of the Blair's baby - little Leo

Now, the stunning French rejection of the EU constitution, which has huge international implications, has been obscured by a coincidental and much narrower argument over the EU budget and in particular the British budget rebate.

This time, it is the Brits who accuse the French of diversionary tactics.

Things have got so bad that it seems that Mr Blair is to give his own news conference after his meeting with Uncle Jacques in Paris on Tuesday. Normally the form on these occasions is to have a joint one, however fraught.

Lessons from history

But has it not always been so? One event - two views.

Remember General de Gaulle and his tones of disapproval as he said "Non" to British membership of the then Common Market? Britain was different, he murmured. For the British, these were words of rejection when they expected gratitude for the refuge given to him in France's darkest hour. For the French (and others) they were words of warning which might just have come true.

And before that, there was that little episode at Dunkirk. For the British, it was heroic (we forget the failure bit). For the French, it looked like the British were running for cover.

And so on, back through history.

1066 and all that

Until we get to the common ancestor, William the Conqueror.

And there one pauses, because then it becomes clear that all these arguments are a bit silly, really.

All you have to do is to look at the inscription on the British memorial near Caen, put up after World War II.

The original is in Latin but it translates as: "We the sons of William have returned to free his native land."

That lends all this stuff about the EU a bit of perspective.

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Oh no, not again rolleyes.gif.....

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