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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 17:51 GMT
Le truth about 'le row'
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac in Brussels
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac in Brussels last week

Downing Street spent much of Tuesday insisting that Tony Blair "values strongly the strength of UK-French relations" - but the entente is looking distinctly less cordiale now the Anglo-French summit due for December has been indefinitely postponed.

The way the whole story of "le row", as it has become known at Westminster, emerged, with government sources talking of how "bemused" they are by Jacques Chirac's behaviour, has managed to give the impression that the French President cancelled the Le Touquet gathering in a fit of Gallic pique.

But what has annoyed the French is not so much the row itself - these things happen at summits, though usually behind the scenes - as their strong suspicion that Number Ten has had a hand in spinning the entire affair.

No domestic harm for Blair

The story of last Friday's "turbulence" in Brussels involving Mr Blair and Mr Chirac surfaced on this side of the channel, not from French sources.

Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac
All smiles: Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac the day before "le row"
It also undoubtedly suits Mr Blair that stories of him provoking the French leader to tell him "You are very rude and I have never been spoken to like this before" should dominate the aftermath of last week's Euro-summit.

Put more bluntly, regardless of whether it amounts to good international politics, it probably does the government little harm domestically to be seen having a go at the French.

The UK government certainly prefers that to some of the alternatives on offer right now: that the prime minister was outmanoeuvred in Brussels by Mr Chirac; that the Franco-German axis is back in operation as the dominant driving force of the EU; and that scrapping the British rebate had suddenly resurfaced as an idea, albeit only temporarily.

What's in a name?

As if that weren't enough, the draft European Union constitution put together by Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing has just proposed renaming the EU the United States of Europe.

What's in a name, you might ask? A name, furthermore, suggested solely for discussion along with a host of other proposals, none of which need to be decided on until 2004, and all of which would require unanimous agreement to be enacted?

Only that "United States of Europe" is the heeby-jeeby description die-hard Eurosceptics have for years applied to the eventual destination of Labour's Euro-policy.

A strong focus on any one of just these alternative stories could give Mr Blair a far worse headache than would questions about the current warmth or otherwise of Anglo-French relations.

Bearing all these factors in mind, and given that the Anglo-French summit will eventually take place at some stage, the calculation will be that a small storm in the Channel can be weathered for now.


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29 Oct 02 | Politics
28 Oct 02 | Politics
28 Oct 02 | Europe
29 Oct 02 | Politics
24 Oct 02 | Europe
25 Oct 02 | Politics
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