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Merkozy Doesn't Matter - There is Another Alliance in Europe That is Far More Important

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Alex Forzani, one of the Cambridge Union's Debating Officers, writes:

Four years ago it was the United States. Two years ago it was Greece. Today, it is Italy. Everyone, across the globe, is embracing, whether they like it or not, the after-effects of economic catastrophe. Yet, with much of the media either bemoaning or decrying the latest quarterly GDP growth figures, other more important issues often get swept under the carpet.

Never was this more true than in Europe. Certainly, the last year and a half has been one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. There have been changes of government across much of the south; record-high borrowing costs as well as the loss of the prized French AAA.

Crucially, at all of these flash points, the eyes of Europeans as well as those in Washington, Beijing and Tokyo, have looked to Paris and Berlin, Sarkozy and Merkel or Merkozy. It has been their leadership, or lack of it, that has drawn much of the press attention. However, at the same time, a far more significant and strategic alliance has started to evolve elsewhere.

At the February 2012 Anglo-French Paris summit, President Sarkozy saluted "le courage du Premier ministre britannique." David Cameron reciprocated the compliment by paying tribute to his host's leadership. These kind words were not only products of diplomatic nicety. They do, more profoundly, represent a vibrant, strong and developing Anglo-French friendship.

More than just good friends

Anyone watching the television coverage of the December 2011 European Council meeting might argue the opposite. The now much-famed 'snub,' when President Sarkozy seemingly refused to shake Prime Minister Cameron's hand, conjured up memories of the bad days of the Blair-Chirac. However, much of this is only window-dressing. In truth, if one looks at policy statements and tangible actions then something very different is happening.

There genuinely is a newfound spirit of bilateral partnership, which is founded upon closer military ties. The Defence and Security Co-operation Treaty (November 2010) mapped out a bold vision for a new Anglo-French world. At its heart were several commitments which bound London and Paris together. The construction of a new joint nuclear facility; the integration of both countries' aircraft carriers and A400Ms (military transport aircraft) as well as plans to work on a defence research clearly indicate a willingness to work together in a way not seen since the Second World War.

Indeed, the strengthening of the so-called 'entente amicale' has been bolstered by similar agreements, such as those on radiographic and hydrodynamic facilities, which have resulted in actual co-operation between the two sides. Yet, the most manifest example of this 'esprit de corps' came with the February 2012 summit. Alongside proposals to work together on civil nuclear power, Sarkozy and Cameron affirmed that they were moving ahead with plans made in 2010 on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Not only did the two leaders plan the twinning of British and French artillery units (who will operate the UAVs), but they also facilitated business co-operation between the companies that will construct them.

The future's bright

What started as defence co-operation in 2010 has blossomed into fully-fledged diplomatic collaboration. It was Paris and London, not Washington that took the leading role in marshalling international pressure during the Libyan Uprising. The deft footwork of Sarkozy and Cameron was instrumental in ensuring the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which proposed the 'No Fly Zone' and paved the way for NATO's Operation Unified Protector.

Although, it may be too early to speculate on potential outcomes in Syria, what is certain is that Britain and France are once again leading the way. They have established a modest food aid programme for the opposition and were amongst the first to call upon President Assad to step down. They do, however, recognise that Syria is not another Libya. Its embedded power structures and geographical location mean that Britain and France cannot act in completely the same way. They are taking smaller steps.

What does the future hold for the Anglo-French entente? Britain and France can never share the same economic relationship of Merkozy, but then no-one in either London or Paris really wants that. You can play around with neologisms all you want- Camkozy and Sarmeron don't really work. In all likelihood, the two countries will probably develop and strengthen their military and diplomatic partnership. This means greater integration of forces; co-ordination on the world stage and perhaps even shaking each other's hands at the next European Council summit.

If you are a member of the Cambridge Union, and would like to contribute to this blog, please e-mail Sophie Odenthal on press@cus.org for more information