Daniel Korski

Sarkozy revs up Franco-German motor, leaving Britain behind

Sarkozy revs up Franco-German motor, leaving Britain behind
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Last week, French President Sarkozy spoke to the annual gathering of his country’s ambassadors. Since he came to power, the French leader has used the annual event to welcome his countrymen back from their holidays and garner a few headlines. This year proved no different with an attack on the Iranian regime receiving the most attention.

In a powerful line, the French president pointed out: "It is the same leaders in Iran who say that the nuclear programme is peaceful and that the elections were honest. Who can believe them?" He went on to say that he thought tougher sanctions would have to be discussed if Tehran does not change its position.

But the speech was boilerplate Sarkozy – expansive, energetic, and ambitious. Highlights included an exultation at the “return of the state” as a result of the financial crisis and a need to further tame markets, starting at the planned G20 meeting in Pittsburg. But the G20 was not the right forum. Instead, Sarkozy said the Group of Eight should be extended to include China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Mexico and Egypt, making it the Group of 14. He also called for dethroning the dollar, a view unlikely to go down well at the Federal Reserve and US Treasury.

But the initiatives did not stop there. Monsieur Sarkozy called for a World Environment Organisation to implement a would-be climate treaty agreed in Copenhagen and reform of the International Labour Organisation to ensure that the power of WTO “is balanced by environmental and labour global lobbies.”

Most interesting to both the government and opposition benches, were President Sakrozy’s remarks about the EU and the conspicuous absence of any mention of the UK, except in a small thrown away line. The French leader observed that though all EU states are equal in rights, they are not equal in duties and responsibilities – explaining the need for France and Germany, the “two biggest countries of the EU”, to lead the way. Problems had been solved because of Franco-German understanding “and my friendship with Angela Merkel” rather than through any cooperation with Britain.

President Sarkozy’s relationship with Mrs Merkel has not, of course, always been easy and the replacement of the Germonophile French Europe Minister Bruno Le Maire with the more Atlanticist Pierre Lellouche a few months ago was seen by many as heralding a change of policy. But the speech to the ambassadors makes clear that the French leader wants to rev up the Franc-German motor first started by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer in 1963. Where that leaves Britain is anyone’s guess.