This afternoon Tony Blair is in Paris meeting French president-elect Nicholas Sarkozy. It is not their first meeting, the pair have met frequently, including during the recent French elections – much to the consternation of the Foreign Office.
For Tony Blair Sarkozy’s election has come too late. For all his time in office he has had to deal with incumbent French president Jacques Chirac, a man antipathetic to Blairite convictions. On European reform, and in the war on terror, Tony Blair has not had an ally in his French counterpart.
Nicholas Sarkozy causes Tony Blair – and Gordon Brown – to believe that he will be a truer friend of Britain. Although not a fully paid up free marketeer Sarkozy has not been uncomfortable with comparisons to Margaret Thatcher and with suggestions that France can learn from British success. His pragmatism suggests he will be willing to engage in European reform which, although not always to Britain’s liking, will at least will be less federalist and ideological.
But it is not only in London that the election of Sarkozy is being welcomed. Washington has been quick to congratulate the man who on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 said “My dedication to our relationship with America is well known and has earned me substantial criticism in France. But let me tell you something, I’m not a coward. I embrace that friendship, I’m proud of the friendship between France and the U.S. and I proclaim it gladly.”
In his post election speech Sarkozy said “I want to call out to our American friends to tell them that they can count on our friendship.” His American friends have heard that and will be hoping his rhetoric is a sign that France will once again be an ally.
Sarkozy joins Angela Merkel as a new leader from “old” Europe who recognises the importance of a good relationship with the Americans. For Britain and America, too long without allies in Western Europe, the electoral emergence of friends is good news for them, and for all those who believe in freedom.