Entente Cordiale? May-Macron meeting marks Anglo-French power shift

Prime Minister to host French President as balanced of power in Europe swings towards Paris

Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May share little personal chemistry
(Image credit: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

Emmanuel Macron will arrive in London today sensing the balance of power between the UK and France may be slowly but decisively shifting in his favour.

The French President arrives for an Anglo-French summit at Sandhurst military academy hoping to capitalise on Britain’s imminent departure from the EU as he looks to push through an ambitious plan for greater European integration.

Theresa May by contrast has seen her personal authority shredded at home and Britain’s standing on the world stage diminished by Brexit, her government’s handling of the divorce negotiations and her gaff-prone Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

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A new border deal over Calais signed yesterday avoided a potential tension point between the two leaders when they meet, “but behind the smiles and handshakes, there are other parts of the relationship that are distinctly more strained”, says the Daily Telegraph, with Lord Ricketts, the former UK ambassador to France, warning this week that Brexit is increasing the risk of Britain and France “drifting apart”.

Topping a growing list of contentious issues is the smash-and-grab raid on the city by Paris, as it looks to supplant London as Europe’s financial capital. Jeremy Browne, the City's special representatives to the EU, warned last summer after a trip to Paris, that the French actively intend to use Brexit to undermine London’s place as Europe’s financial capital.

“They want disruption. They actively seek disaggregation of financial services provision,” Browne said, “a prediction that was subsequently borne out by hardline French positions in the phase one Brexit negotiations that rejected several attempts at compromise”, says the Telegraph.

Similarly, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence begins to fade, so Macron sees an opening to present himself, and by extension France, as the new “leader of the free world”.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his strong relationship with Donald Trump, which contrasts starkly with the increasingly bitter ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK.

Macron has long-style himself as the heir to de Gaulle, Napoleon and even the Sun King Louis XIV. In their mould and “in order to make France Great Again, Macron is taking the decisions he believes necessary and he has the confidence – some say arrogance – to ignore his critics”, argues The Spectator. This has been reflected by a most recent poll indicating another rise in his approval rating.

Yet his comparison with the weak and uncertain May alludes to something deeper, perhaps presenting an apt metaphor for how France and Britain sees themselves in 2018.

For all their cordiality, “Britain and France tend not to thrive at the same time, either as economies or as moulders of continental affairs”, says the Financial Times.

30 years of post-war French economic and cultural dominance was followed by 30 years of steady decline, during which time the UK became Europe’s financial centre.

Whether the next three decades will belong to France is not yet clear. It will come down to the accumulated decisions of leaders who follow Macron and May, “but all the same, the early form is unpromising for the UK”, says the FT.

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