Last time Cameron and Sarkozy met, there were angry words. Now it is all sweetness and light with a gift from the Libyan war
Presenting your loved one with the remains of a missile as a late Valentine’s Day gift might not seem too romantic. But when David Cameron arrived at the Paris summit and handed Nicolas Sarkozy an inscribed piece of battered warship shell-casing recovered from HMS Liverpool’s stint off Libya, it was gesture of peace and love. They may have had their ups and downs, but they will always have Benghazi.
Conveniently, it was the anniversary of the Libya revolution, and getting rid of Gaddafi had been something that brought them together.
Under the twinkling chandeliers of the Elysée Palace’s Napoloen III room, a smiling Cameron and Sarkozy stood side by side on the podium firing off round after round of mutual admiration as cupid hovered overhead.
It was a pleasure, privilege and honour to work with Sarkozy, gushed Cameron, lauding the closest Franco-British co-operation since the second world war. Sarkozy said he admired the prime minister’s courage and Britain’s commitment to its traditions and history. Not to mention their historic co-operation on defence. He said he was looking forward to the Olympics in London, with no reference to Paris’s bid to be host.
Gone was what Cameron politely termed “the odd bump or bounce” in their relationship. Sarkozy shrugged off as traditional differences their divergences on Europe. Anyway, they both said, it had never been personal. There was no echo of Sarkozy railing at Cameron in Brussels in October: “You have lost a good opportunity to shut up” and “We are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.”
Recent spats over the European treaty, tension over competition to sell fighter jets to India, Cameron calling Sarkozy’s financial transaction tax mad or Sarkozy’s recent quip that Britain had no industry left seemed to be behind them.
That didn’t mean there wasn’t the odd playful dig behind the rictus grins. When Cameron gushed that he was so happy to be back in Paris, “the capital city I’ve visited more than any other over the last two years”, Sarkozy interjected “Except Brussels!”
“That’s not the same,” Cameron said.
To French observers, the Cameron meeting was more than just an international summit. Sarkozy is no longer just the president; he’s a candidate for his own difficult re-election battle against the Socialist favourite François Hollande.
His campaign kicked off this week. Standing next to a European leader making international announcements was a crucial part of convincing a economically gloom-laden France of his leadership stature. But what Paris really wanted to know was would Cameron roll up his sleeves and get out on the campaign trail with Sarkozy, giving him an enthusiastic election endorsement akin to Germany’s Angela Merkel?
Cameron said the summit had given him “the chance to wish my friend well in the battle he has ahead”. He admired Sarkozy’s leadership and courage, saying he was a good thing for his country. But he said if he made those comments on Sarkozy’s campaign trail he wasn’t sure they would have the sought-after effect. Sarkozy said the more people who said good things about him, the better.
But the main cloud over the diplomatic love-in was Syria. If both agreed there must be an end to what Cameron called an appalling situation, the real test of France and Britain’s new Entente Amicale would be to pave the way together for the world to bring it about.
from Angelique Chrisafis