French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown aren’t meeting at Arsenal’s new London stadium Thursday to watch a match together — the location was chosen to represent a new page in the nations’ long history.
The success of Arsenal, a leading English football club with a French head coach and several French players, provides an optimistic backdrop to England and France’s newly warmed ties.
Relations across the Channel, which suffered after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, have improved since the two leaders came to power last year, and both sides have promoted this amicable image during Sarkozy’s first state visit to the UK.
Sarkozy, at a formal dinner at Windsor Castle Wednesday evening, likened the Franco-British relationship to that of two quarrelsome brothers. "Certainly, we fight sometimes, perhaps even often. But we have always treated each other with esteem and respect,” he said.
Brown struck a similar tone, telling members of parliament earlier in the day that London and Paris had "a good deal in common and a shared agenda for the future".
Working together in Afghanistan
During an address before a joint session of the British Parliament, Sarkozy announced that France would bolster its troop presence in Afghanistan — a move welcomed by both Britain and the United States — saying that the battle against the insurgents was entering "a crucial phase".
"We cannot accept that the Taliban and al Qaeda return to Kabul. Defeat is not an option, even if victory will be difficult," Sarkozy said.
At Thursday’s meeting, Brown and Sarkozy are expected to discuss transparency as a way to control the deepening international financial crisis. Sarkozy has said that he’d like Washington to take action to fight the US dollar’s slide against the euro, which is hurting European exports. But Brown is unlikely to be sympathetic as the UK has traditionally preferred to leave these matters to the market.
The two permanent members of the UN Security Council are also scheduled to discuss the reform of that body. British officials told Reuters that France and Britain both want the council to become more representative, including a permanent position for an African nation.
Queen Elizabeth praised the increasing ties between the two nations during the formal banquet. “Well over a third of a million French people now work in Britain, while increasing numbers of Britons are choosing to live in France. Not only culturally, but economically we are doing so much more together,” she said.
On today’s meeting’s agenda is also the sale of French nuclear reactors to Britain, which has recently decided to construct new power stations after a freeze of more than 20 years.
While the sale may cause some controversy in Britain — where a strong anti-nuclear movement exists — Brown’s government claims that a new generation of nuclear plants will help Britain reduce its carbon emissions, and a big international sale could be a boost for France’s economy.