President Sarkozy’s Entente ‘Amicale’

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President Sarkozy’s state visit to Britain, the first by a French head of state in twelve years, was a resounding success, marked by his call for a strengthening of Anglo-French relations and the introduction of a new icon on the world stage – Sarkozy’s new wife and now French first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. President Sarkozy has begun his term of office with a great sense of purpose and re-vitalising Anglo-French relations is high on his agenda. With that aim in mind, he could not have a better host than Queen Elizabeth II, whose diplomatic skills have been honed over more than five decades. Mr. Sarkozy, by contrast, is a very modern politician and his brash style and joie de vivre brought a different tone to what can sometimes be rather staid proceedings. And in an age when image counts for so much, particularly for a very image-conscious statesman, being accompanied by his new wife, a former ‘supermodel’ and nowadays successful singer-songwriter, brought that indispensable touch of glamour. The state visit began as the presidential couple arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport. They were greeted by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, on behalf of the Queen. Prince Charles’ reaction to the ‘Carla factor’ gave a clue as to what was to follow – an effusive greeting, “enchanté” were HRH’s first words. President Sarkozy, whose honeymoon period as the new incumbent in the Elysees Palace has come to a rather abrupt end, looked delighted at Carla’s reception and very much a man with a renewed spring in his step. The presidential couple were then whisked off to Windsor Castle, where they were greeted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. Gold-gilded, horse-drawn carriages then took them to a review of the honour guard, after which it was time for a private lunch with Her Majesty. After lunch gifts were exchanged. The Queen gave the President, who is a keen philatelist, a set of stamps issued in 2004 commemorating the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, the historic political rapprochement between France and Britain. The Queen also gave the President the honourary title of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. In return the Queen received the antique book ‘Perfect Knowledge of Horses’ published in 1743 by Louis XV’s general inspector of horses. The Duke of Edinburgh received a bronze statuette of a hunting dog. Ceremony and some poignant symbolism continued with the presidential couple travelling up to London’s Westminster Abbey to lay a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Sarzoi Visit 2101 Political spats aside, France and Britain fought side by side in both WWI and WWII and behind the ceremony and symbolism the visit represented an important opportunity for President Sarkozy, who has been criticised at home as showing more style than substance. Next on the itinerary was the President’s address to parliament, which outlined his vision for strengthening the historic entente cordiale to an entente amicale: “France and the United Kingdom are more closely linked today than they have ever been. “We have the same vision of the future of the world and the same resolve to act, from the reform of international organisations to action to address global warming. We have the same commitment to peace and security. The nature of the challenges has changed, but what has not changed is the need for our two great nations to stand shoulder to shoulder to help shape the world. More than ever, the time has come, I believe, for the French and British peoples to carry out a profoundly political act: to put behind us our old rivalries so as to build a future in which we will be stronger because we are together. May a French president, whose youthful dreams were often inspired by Britain’s greatness, convey a brotherly greeting from the French people to the British people and thank them for giving me such a warm welcome. It will remain etched in my memory and my heart. Long live Franco-British friendship! Long live the United Kingdom! Long live France!” This was met with a standing ovation but the highlight of the visit was the state banquet at St. George’s Hall, Windsor Castle. The presidential couple dined with twelve members of the Royal Family and a host of dignitaries. Preparation for the feast had been an enormous and meticulous task for 300 staff of the royal household, with the Queen personally checking that all was in order just an hour before the guests arrived! A splendid evening to remember with the Queen warmly reciprocating President Sarkozy’s sentiments: “With a growing spirit of mutual understanding on so many levels, we stand ready to face the global challenges ahead, knowing that when we work together we can produce effective and enduring results. We see this in the joint commitment of France and the United Kingdom in Africa, which continues to be decisive, and we are determined to turn what were old rivalries into common efforts to reduce conflict on that continent, particularly in the area of education. We see it also on climate change, where our governments are together helping to influence and guide the international debate. Within Europe, though we may  just occasionally differ, we also far more often agree. At the United Nations also, no two countries work more closely and effectively together in the vital area of conflict-resolution. And I would like to pay particular tribute this evening to all those French and British individuals, voluntary or professional, within and outside government, spanning all continents, who work as one towards greater levels of security, prosperity, and peace-of-mind throughout the world. Monsieur le President: close as neighbours; closer as partners; growing closer-still as friends, our nations have much to celebrate. I wish you and Madame Sarkozy a happy visit to this country, and I now ask everyone to raise their glasses and drink a toast to: His Excellency the President of the French Republic; Madame Sarkozy; and the people of France.” (Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 21/01)