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L'entente cordiale : When Wisdom Prevails over Passion

Franco-British Summit Statements made by French President Jacques Chirac, during his Joint Press Conference with Mr Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great-Britain and Northern Ireland (Excerpts). (London,  November 24, 2003. Source: Quai d'Orsay and French Embassy, London.

President Jacques Chirac: I'd like to begin by warmly thanking the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for the very congenial welcome he has been kind enough to extend us and, once again, to say how much we've appreciated it.

  • Istanbul Terrorist Attacks

Let me come back for a moment to what he said and express once again our horror at the Istanbul terrorist attacks. I told the Prime Minister how struck I'd been by the deep state of shock and great solidarity spontaneously expressed by the French public in the wake of these attacks – shock and a solidarity which was wholeheartedly affirmed, reflected by all the media. In France there was an indisputable, immediate swell of emotion and indignation in the wake of these attacks, demonstrating solidarity with the British.

  • Rugby World Cup

On an entirely different note, I extended my and France's heartfelt congratulations to the Prime Minister on the brilliant rugby World Cup victory. And let me assure you – I want to make this clear – that we expressed these sentiments without any reservations and in a spirit of great friendship, recognizing the unquestionable superiority of the English in this domain.

Third point: the Entente Cordiale, since I won't expatiate on the other issues on which the Prime Minister was perfectly clear, and very widespread agreement – even though some disagreements remain here and there – emerged and was confirmed between our two countries and governments. The Entente Cordiale was, a hundred years ago, a great initiative where wisdom prevailed over passion. We mustn't forget the context because history could just as easily have taken a different turn and led us to war between Britain and France, particularly for reasons to do with African affairs. And a number of men and women were wise enough to avert war and promote the Entente. It's an example we should keep in mind.

A hundred years later, in an obviously different context, the same conclusions can be drawn. Today, Europe is being built. It's being enlarged. It's a considerable effort requiring resolve, determination and imagination. An effort justified by what, basically? Well, quite simply by what's essential, what has always driven it, an effort to entrench democracy and peace in Europe. This is clearly what justifies the enlargement. The rest – the progress we can expect on economic and social issues from greater coherence in our shared development – is a bonus. The essential thing is clearly to entrench peace and democracy on our continent. And from this point of view, with the enlargement, the UK's role, place, importance is even more critical than before – a Europe in which the UK doesn't have a prominent place is inconceivable, it would in a way be a Europe with an amputated limb. This [goal of entrenching democracy and peace in Europe] requires, of course – without any idea of leadership which would be absolutely contrary to our idea of Europe – ties, relations, an agreement between a number of countries among the founder-members, who therefore perhaps have more experience, passion and faith than others.

From this point of view, the agreement, inter alia – and I mean inter alia, since it obviously excludes no one, small, medium-sized or big countries, as people say today – between Germany, Britain and France must be strengthened. And strengthening an agreement requires constantly ensuring the conditions for trust. Certainly, there is trust between our two countries, but you can always increase trust, it always has to be nurtured, developed. It's with this in mind that we are determined, through these ceremonies and events commemorating the Entente Cordiale, to update this Entente Cordiale spirit by trying to make 2004 the year of cordial trust between Britain and France. We can do so today.

  • Defence/Iraq/Middle East/Iran/Afghanistan

Just now, the Prime Minister talked about defence issues, on which we are making real progress, for example through our cooperation on armaments and more generally through our shared vision of tomorrow's Europe, the reform of its institutions. We discussed a number of problems. Admittedly, we still have some differences of view on Iraq. These have, if I may say so, been major ones. But we have a totally identical approach on other essential problems, that of the Middle East, I mean the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where France is wholeheartedly supporting Britain's efforts to get peace restored, brought nearer.

It's the case too for Iran where, together, we have, through our action with Germany, taken an initiative which ought, I hope, to lead to the settlement of a problem which could otherwise have been sensitive and dangerous. It's true in Afghanistan where we are working hand in hand.

  • Africa

It's true in Africa where cooperation between Britain and France is exemplary in very many spheres, throughout Africa and, obviously, where there are crises. This was, moreover, concretely demonstrated by the British presence and support in Operation Artemis in Ituri.

So there are here, if you like, a whole host of reasons justifying stronger, renewed cordial trust between our two countries. And that is clearly our goal, it's what we talked about today. I can tell you very frankly: I am shortly going to return to Paris happy with the talks we have had here with the British Prime Minister, his ministers and colleagues, and I thank him again.


  • Iraq

Question:  Since I understand there has been another round of diplomacy or giftmanship of one kind or another, I wonder whether Monsieur le Président could say that developments in Iraq, under coalition occupation, particularly the date for a handover of power, will make it easier for the Prime Minister to explain to his son Leo why Britain went to war?

President Jacques Chirac: It's kind of you to mention Leo, for whom, as everyone knows, I feel great affection and I greatly appreciated the fact that this morning, before talking about anything else, the Prime Minister gave me, personally, a photo signed by Leo himself, which gave me particular pleasure. Of course, I can't possibly prejudge what the Prime Minister will tell his son when the time comes, nor in fact the questions his son will ask him.

What I want to say, however, is that, admittedly, the situation isn't an easy one. I believe that the new approach which our American friends seem to be adopting, i.e. one geared towards a handover of sovereignty and the transfer of responsibility which that entails to the Iraqi people, this new approach seems to me, in any event, the right one.

Nevertheless, since you ask me what I feel, I think, to tell the truth, that the time frame for this seems a bit long and the plan seems to me relatively incomplete, to the extent that the role of the UN, which, to my mind, must be crucial if the Iraqis themselves are to find it less hard to accept, isn't spelled out or spelled out sufficiently clearly. So I believe we are moving in the right direction, but that the action is still insufficient and incomplete. That's my feeling.


  • Syria/Middle East Peace Process

Question:  President, what are you going to do in the Middle East? You said that you have discussed the Middle East and that you paid tribute to the British efforts in the peace process. But nothing is happening in terms of the peace process at the moment.


President Jacques Chirac: First of all on Syria, we of course hope that Syria will fully regain her place, which is an important one, within the international community. With this in mind, we are actively supporting the negotiations which are currently, I hope, leading to the EU-Syria Association Agreement. I hope, in any event, and we are doing our utmost to achieve this, that these negotiations can be concluded and this agreement signed in Brussels before the end of this year or beginning of the next.

More generally, as far as the peace process in the Middle East is concerned, I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister has just said. We think we must never give up hope, regardless of how hard a situation may be – and we are well aware that the present one is hard. Which means that today, in the existing framework, i.e. the Quartet, we must again take initiatives, perhaps for example by convening the international conference which, in the road-map, was scheduled for the beginning of the second phase. From this point of view, I repeat, we fully concur and we are supporting Britain's efforts to try to facilitate initiatives aimed at getting a peace discussion going around a table between the protagonists in the Middle East.

  • NATO/European Defence

Question:  Could I put this question again to the President? Does France have any problem with the issue of the primacy of NATO? More generally, can I ask about the [European] Constitution and whether you both feel that it is effectively now a done deal? Is it something that you are sure will be agreed?


President Jacques Chirac: (...) I want to tell you that France hasn't got a problem with NATO. We have our status which is what it is, we have been totally involved in all the modifications which have taken place recently. When it came to creating the NATO Response Force, we were asked to be part of it and we were. We are even the leading contributor! So France hasn't got a problem with NATO, no problem, as long as she is respected she has no problem. The way we see European defence is that it can't possibly ever be incompatible with NATO, I want this to be clear. Neither the Germans nor the French have the remotest wish to take any initiative whatsoever which is incompatible with NATO which, as the Prime Minister has just said, is the heart of our defence system, we're not going to attack our heart. So from this point of view there's no problem.

On the other hand, we consider that there are operations which can be carried out [by the Europeans], we talked about Macedonia, we could have talked about Ituri, likewise the Balkans. There are operations which we need to be able to carry out. To be carried out, an operation has to be prepared, planned and subsequently commanded. Now, you will say that for this we have the national HQs, that's true, but we'd like as effective a defence as possible. So we'd like there to be an organization, harmonization, no duplication. So, what we are proposing, and what we are discussing at the moment with our British friends, is a system which is totally consistent with NATO, which is not remotely likely to cause any difficulty whatsoever to, or a fortiori any weakening of NATO, but gives extra effectiveness and status to the European Union.

Question: You talked about making this European force very capable, very effective. So to be effective does it need, going beyond theoretical considerations, a physical, specific headquarters and where do you want that to be? And at that point should this force, these HQs inform NATO beforehand of their operations?


President Jacques Chirac: You have raised one or two points of detail which are of course important. We shall find an agreement with our British friends, there's no doubt about that, for a simple reason which I talked about at the start of the press conference: between partners, when there's mistrust, there's every chance of failure. When there's trust people can find solutions and today we are determined to display our trust and eliminate mistrust. This is why I can tell you that we will find a solution.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).