The entente was truly cordiale

Since, as everyone knows, the French are more intelligent than anyone else, it was only fair that th

Good news: Arsenal is at the top of the Premiership. Bravo, Arsène Wenger! Strangely enough, the papers aren't talking only about Arsenal, they are also giving extensive coverage to President Sarkozy's visit to Washington. They don't quite know what to make of it. Some see us as America's new favourite; others say French policy will never change. The reality is simpler: today's challenges are daunting, not least in Iran, Kosovo and Afghanistan, so we can't afford artificial and sterile divisions. But we will continue, if need be, to articulate our own views.

After all, France is America's oldest ally and, unlike most of the other big European powers (the UK included), we have never been at war with the US. I was among the few who thought that after 9/11 a new beginning was possible in the relationship between Europe and the US, so that we could tackle together not only the fight against the Taliban, but also all the other immense challenges in the world. What, sadly, wasn't possible then might be possible now.

Memories of London

The day starts under a bright blue sky. I'm told about a towering column of smoke over east London. I can even see it from my office. Initial reports mention the possibility of a terrorist attack. I'm relieved to learn that is not the case. I remember flying with Tony Blair from the Gleneagles summit on 7 July 2005 to be there for the many French people in London, one of whom died. The calm and resolve of Londoners will remain one of the strongest memories of my stay here.

The evening is a moment of great emotion. I pay tribute to my great friend Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, awarding him the égion d'honneur at my residence in Kensington Palace Gardens. He makes a very witty speech. I'm so happy to honour a man who has done so much for the arts. It's particularly admirable to make the arts accessible to the general public: to move away from elitism while maintaining excellence. He is also quite exceptional, as he combines huge erudition with extreme simplicity, remarkable competence with true modesty. Modesty and humility are, as we know, the well-hidden qualities of both the French and the British. But in Neil's case, they are visible and genuine.

The will of the people

Everybody asks me about the strikes in Paris. In the past, when people asked why the French kept shooting themselves in the foot with the 35-hour week and so on, I usually answered that since, as everyone knows, the French are more intelligent than anyone else, it was only fair that they set themselves handicaps, such as the 35-hour week, to restore a level playing field for everyone else.

Today, my answer is different. President Sarkozy has a mandate for reforms. They were at the core of his manifesto and were massively endorsed by the voters last May. As expected, some defend the status quo. But the great majority of the French clearly understand that, if they want to guarantee their children's future, to safeguard the quality of life that they enjoy, to increase their purchasing power and quite simply to ensure France's influence in the world, the reforms must succeed.

An unbeatable couple

The first day that Eurostar trains arrive at St Pancras is one of those rare moments when a train running on time makes the news. With high-speed trains on the British side of the tunnel, passengers will no longer be able to admire Kent's picturesque countryside at their leisure. A lot is being made of the fact that we will no longer arrive at a station called Waterloo, but frankly, people in France never lost much sleep over it.

France and Britain both have a rich history and, together, a loaded past. Is it not time to move beyond this centuries-old rivalry? Whether we like it or not, our fate lies together, in Europe. And since we are at the same time so different and so alike, let's dream that our differences can make us complementary and our similarities make us stronger. We could be an unbeatable couple.

Ambassador to London since 2002, Gérard Errera leaves at the end of the month to become secrétaire général of the French ministry of foreign affairs

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, China