With Anglo-French relations at their lowest ebb since Jacques Chirac declared that Britain had the worst food in the world (after Finland), Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown have co-authored a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal in an attempt to repair the entente cordiale.
The latest quarrel began, you may remember, after Sarkozy launched a polemical assault on the “unconstrained Anglo-Saxon market model”. With unrestrained glee, he declared that the appointment of the Frenchman Michel Barnier as the EU’s financial regulation chief promised “victory” for the “European model”.
Do you know what it means for me to see for the first time in 50 years a French European commissioner in charge of the internal market, including financial services, including the City [of London]?
I want the world to see the victory of the European model, which has nothing to do with the excesses of financial capitalism.
It will stand as one of the ironies of history that the man who came to power promising to do for France what Thatcher did for Britain has transformed himself into one of the most vociferous critics of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. But like his Gaullist predecessors, he has found the rhetorical appeal of the dirigiste tradition too heady to resist.
Perhaps unexpectedly, today’s article isn’t the bland or incoherent work it might have been. The solid social-democratic belief that the market is a good servant but a bad master underlines their appeal for a “new compact” between global banks and “the society they serve”. And both are right to call for European states to introduce a one-off tax on bank bonuses.
The pair will meet on the fringes of the latest EU summit, with one diplomat commenting: “I think it’ll be fine. In two years, you’ll be wondering what the fuss was about.”
If you accept Harold Wilson’s dictum that “a week is a long time in politics”, then two years is a rather long time for both sides to forgive and forget. Sarkozy and Brown would do well to begin with a new compact between themselves before turning to casino capitalism.