/ 27 March 2008

Sarkozy pays tribute to Britain, calls for ‘brotherhood’

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday declared the birth of an Anglo-French axis as a force for progress in Europe and the world, on issues ranging from climate change and nuclear power to United Nations reform and the war in Afghanistan.

Addressing both houses of Parliament, Sarkozy delivered perhaps the warmest homage to Britain delivered by any postwar French leader. Differences over the European Union and past rivalries, he said, could be overcome.

”In the name of the French people, I have come to propose to the people of Britain that together we write a new page in our shared history, that of a new Franco-British brotherhood — a brotherhood for the 21st century.

”If the UK and France together want more justice, the world will be more just. If the UK and France struggle together for peace, the world will be more peaceful,” he declared. To cement his proposed pact, he offered help in Afghanistan, drawing thunderous applause from Parliament. ”France will propose, at the Bucharest [Nato] summit, to reinforce its military presence. We cannot accept a return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to Kabul. Defeat is not an option,” Sarkozy said.

He did not specify the numbers of French troops involved, leaving that to next week’s summit, but Nato officials say they expect 1 000 to be sent, either to the east or south of Afghanistan.

In Europe, Sarkozy argued, Franco-German friendship remained ”indispensable” but it was no longer enough to keep the European Union vigorous.

For that, he said, ”we need this new Franco-British entente”.

To that end, he issued a call for Britain to get more involved in Europe. ”I know it is a sensitive subject in Britain. It’s a sensitive subject in France,” he said.

Divisive debates

But he argued that the divisive institutional debates about the EU’s future shape had been settled in the Lisbon treaty. ”Now Europe can devote all its energy to concrete projects: the struggle against climate change, energy, immigration, and the development of security and defence policy,” he said.

He also promised France was ready for reform of the Common Agricultural Programme, the EU farm subsidies which Britain has long wanted overhauled. Sarkozy said the first phase of reform would take place under France’s EU presidency in the second half of this year.

Britain, with its historic links to the United States and the Commonwealth, would bring a unique diversity, global network and window on the world to Europe. ”We need you inside Europe, not outside. We cannot build a democratic and effective Europe without the United Kingdom.

”Today, more than ever. Europe needs the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom needs Europe. Who can think that the UK would have more influence in the world if it returned to splendid isolation? Who could think that Europe would be stronger without British dynamism?”

On climate change, he declared, the two could lead the world, and in particular convince the US.

”If the UK and France speak with one voice against climate change, this voice will be heard, even by those who doubt the seriousness of the threat to our planet,” he said.

”I’m thinking first of all of the US, because to prevent an environmental catastrophe the world needs America. Who better than its two most sincere friends to convince it to assume its global responsibilities, in the name of shared values for which they have shared so many sacrifices?”

Anticipating a joint statement on Thursday, he added that if France and Britain both invested in nuclear power as the ”energy of the future” for combating climate change and assuring energy security, ”then this argument will have a new force behind it”.

On the reform of the United Nations and other global institutions, he said the two saw eye to eye on the need to make them ”more just, legitimate and strong”. He suggested the G8 industrialised countries be expanded to a G13 or G14, by including China, India and Brazil.

British politicians across the spectrum were impressed by his speech. One minister called it an astonishing performance: ”It is difficult to imagine any other French president delivering such a speech. It is interesting where it leaves David Cameron after the president said that Britain should be at the heart of Europe.”

Conservatives were also impressed. One frontbencher said: ”It was a superb speech. I’m not sure we remember de Gaulle so warmly, though. Britain gave him refuge and then he said ‘Non’ to British membership of the EEC.”

But another Tory said: ”The speech was all about dressing up the European project in friendly language.”

Speaking to MPs and peers

The privilege of a joint address to both houses of Parliament is given rarely. World leaders who have been given the honour include:

Ronald Reagan: On June 8 1982 the US president made a speech predicting the end of communism.

Nelson Mandela: Mandela’s speech in July 1996 on apartheid received a long, standing ovation.

Dalai Lama: In 1996, the exiled Tibetan leader’s invitation was attacked by Chinese ministers.

Bertie Ahern: In May 2007 Ahern addressed MPs and peers in the Royal Gallery to commemorate the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland — the first time an Irish prime minister had addressed both houses.

One non-appearance: George Bush did not address both houses during his state visit in November 2003 following anti-war protests.

Others speakers include Shimon Peres, Daniel Ortega, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton. – guardian.co.uk Â