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What Unites France and the United Kingdom Is More Important than What Separates Them

What Unites France and the United Kingdom Is More Important than What Separates Them

Speech by Jean-Louis Debré, President of the Assemblée Nationale. Source: Sénat. Paris, April 6, 2004.


In this centenary year of the declaration of the Entente Cordiale signed by King Edward VII and the then Président du Conseil, Théophile Delcassé, on the 8th of April 1904, may I too say, on behalf of the French Members of Parliament, what an honour it is for us to welcome you. This, your fourth State visit to our country, bears witness once again to your attachment to France and to the friendship that has united France and the United Kingdom for so long. 

This great friendship is the fruit of a long history of rivalries, wars and alliances which, over the centuries, has woven complex and very close ties between our peoples who are so close and yet so different. May I venture to say that the rivalry between our two nations, these two embodiments of two very distinctive cultures and temperaments, has helped nourish their respective geniuses and contributed to their influence? In all events, this long and singular history, during which victory for one of our nations sometimes meant defeat for the other, has taught us to get to know and appreciate one another, as two nations with strong identities can know and appreciate one another. 

Sir Winston Churchill, which whom General de Gaulle shared a friendship that may not always have plain sailing but that was founded on mutual admiration, contended that "The Almighty, in his infinite wisdom, did not see fit to create the French in the image of the English." They nonetheless shared the same deep-rooted attachment to two essential values: freedom and human dignity. When the ordeals of history jeopardised these values, the British and French always set the differences aside to stand united against these threats.

This same fraternity of arms, forged on the battlefields of the Great War which saw so many British, French and allied forces pay the price of our freedom with their blood, was again in evidence in World War II. We all remember the admirable tenacity of the British people under the glorious leadership of Sir Winston Churchill and under the aegis of his sovereign, your father King George VI. We all know how much the resistance, the example and the support of England, as well as the encouragement of the King and Royal Family helped Général de Gaulle keep proudly flying the flag of la France libre and the French resistance movement. 

In these terrible circumstances, France and Great Britain demonstrated what they can achieve when they stand united. In a few weeks' time, the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings will be an opportunity for us to celebrate, along with our allies, this fraternity that was renewed on the beaches of Normandy.

Sixty years after those great feats, the Europe that we succeeded in defending and liberating with weapons, has, after its reconciliation, embarked on a peaceful adventure, that of its construction. Great Britain and France both hope that this construction will take place with all due respect to Nation-States, while transcending self-interest but without renouncing national specificities.

There can be no doubt that the Franco-British friendship will be called upon to serve as one of the pivots of this reconciled, pacified and united Europe. Since the United Kingdom joined the Common Market some three decades ago, remarkable progress has been made in bringing our peoples and countries closer together in areas of development and cooperation, as borne out by our joint intervention in Africa or in the field of defence. After so many other projects carried out together, can there be any better symbol of our ability to cooperate with one another than the Channel Tunnel, via which Your Majesty arrived in France yesterday?

A few years ago, I believe, Your Majesty humorously remarked that "Though it is true that we do not drive on the same side of the road, it is equally true that we are advancing in the same direction."

Based on the conviction that what unites them is more important than what separates them, France and the United Kingdom wish to look to the future together.

That is the wish that the French members of parliament would like to express on this anniversary date, together with their counterparts from the House of Commons who have kindly travelled to Paris on this joyous occasion and whom I have the great pleasure of greeting at this reception.

Vive le Royaume-Uni !
Vive la France !
And long live the friendship between France and Britain!

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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).