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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK
Blair and Chirac's explosive chemistry
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Let's face it, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac are never going to be drinking buddies.

Their relationship has been marked by one figurative pub brawl after another.

Tony Blair and his wife Cherie with Jacques Chirac
The summit is the latest round in Blair-Chirac splits

They always end up hugging each other and declaring "you're my best mate, you know", but it never lasts long before the sound of breaking glass echoes around the summit chamber again.

It is probably all part of the old French-English animosity and has many of the same characteristics of that historic distrust.

It is said that Tony finds Jacques imperious, dismissive and infuriating, while Jacques believes Tony is an upstart who fails to show him the respect he believes he is due.

Farms row

Two years ago it led to one of the most public splits when the two men had a summit falling out over farm subsidies.

It ended with Mr Chirac declaring he had never been spoken too so rudely and abruptly cancelling a mini-summit with the prime minister.

It needs to be said here that, at the time, there was more than a little suspicion that what had really outraged Mr Chirac was the way Downing Street exaggerated the row to win a few cheers back home.

Mr Chirac might like to tell his citizens that it is all off, thanks to the usual intransigence of the Brits.
And, sure enough, they soon made up, swapping birthday presents - 70th for Chirac and 50th for Blair and saying, relatively, nice things about each other.

But the relationship was never anything more than, appropriately, cordial rather that intimate.

And it remained the case that Mr Chirac's best friend was Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and Mr Blair's bosom buddy was George W. Bush.

That all came to a very serious head over the Iraq war and Britain's determination to press ahead alongside the US in the face of serious opposition from Paris.

World concern

The fact Mr Blair suggested the French opposition was unreasonable only served to sharpen what had the potential to become the most serious rift in the cross-Channel relationship and even the EU itself in recent times.

The wry amusement which has sometimes greeted these Anglo-French bust ups gave way to very real international concern about the future shape of global diplomacy.

Genuine arguments erupted about the desirability of having a single US-dominated post-Cold War world order or whether there should be a bi-polar globe with Europe providing a counterweight to American power.

Those arguments have not gone away, nor have the wounds left by the bitter split over Iraq, although thanks largely to the UN, these have at least been bandaged.

And at the Brussels summit, they were at it again with another of those traditional rows over who should become the next commission president, with the UK on one side and the Franco-German alliance on the other.

Mixed audiences

We have been here before as well, with monotonous regularity. And, once again, the row overshadowed probably far more serious issues - in this case the EU constitution.

Both sides exchanged insults and, once again, there were suspicions each was playing to its domestic audiences.

In the end, they have executed a classic summit compromise by postponing a decision on the presidency and hammering out a final constitutional treaty that will satisfy everyone.

And, while the row will undoubtedly have once again soured Anglo-French relations, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac can also hug and make up later.

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