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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008, 09:00 GMT
Sarkozy woos the British

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

President Sarkozy addressing British MPs
Sarkozy was passionate and worked his charm

French President Nicolas Sarkozy showed his powers of seduction in his speech to members of the British parliament.

Perhaps the demure figure of his wife sitting behind him had felt the same force.

He was not afraid to come on very strong.

"You represent the touchstone of everything our democracies stand for" was his opening gambit.

It was followed by a hymn of praise to British history and courage. This always goes down well with a British audience, but it is quite rare to hear it these days.

Not on this occasion.

"France will never forget," he declared, when speaking with emotion about the last war.

He did not mention the Iraq war.

He did mention the European Union.

"My dear British people, the EU needs the UK," was his message.

Practical politics

Like a smart suitor, he offered some practical measures as well - a kind of political pre-nup which would follow acceptance of his ardour. There were also hints that for the new partnership to work, the British half of the couple would have to bring something to the table as well.

It is in the follow up to these offers that the real test of the "brotherhood" he is proposing will come.

Europe must be capable of its own security, not just its own prosperity
Nicolas Sarkozy

They include joint action on global warming, energy (joint exploitation of French nuclear expertise), immigration (a common EU policy), development and defence and security.

He even offered a renewed discussion about reform of the EU's common agricultural policy - music to British ears - while carefully erecting a new defence against farm imports.

We don't know enough about whether they are safe, he suggested.

Defence splits

A key element of his offer lay in defence. He is trying to integrate an Atlantic and a European view, claiming that there is no real distinction between the two.

Mr Sarkozy hinted that France would send more troops to Afghanistan, but is seeking political cover by getting Nato to put greater emphasis on reconstruction and handing over eventually to the Afghans.

His final position will emerge at the Nato summit in Romania next week.

Mr Brown must have been interested in Mr Sarkozy's call for reform of the international institutions

But a commitment by France to send troops would be a strong signal that the new relationship has meaning.

And if France also rejoins the Nato military structure (with some good command posts as a reward), that would be a further sign of a promising honeymoon.

In return, he might well ask Britain to do more to build up a purely European defence policy.

The French leader said pointedly: "Europe must be capable of its own security, not just its own prosperity."

This might run into the caution of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who had earlier been asked in the House of Commons about the EU/Nato issue.

His answer - that the EU should concentrate on civilian-type operations - would probably not be what Mr Sarkozy wants to hear.

The Conservative MP who asked that question, Bernard Jenkin, told me later that defence was the "iceberg" at this summit.

"The French want the EU to have an independent military capability, with a headquarters at Tervuren [a suburb of Brussels]. The Americans are exasperated. The EU should not have this. We already have Nato."

A 'fairer' globalisation

There was further potential for disagreement in the French president's tempered praise of globalisation.

It turned out that he wanted it to be "fairer and more just" and that it was right for the EU to "protect its own interests".

Mr Brown, however, must have been interested in Mr Sarkozy's call for reform of the international institutions, especially the G8 grouping of industrial nations. G8 should include China, India and Brazil at least, he hinted.

The speech was a good start to the 'entente amicale' that Mr Sarkozy wants. Now comes the test.

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