Of the three European nations which ran the great 18th and 19th century empires only Britain devised an organisation to retain structural links between itself and its former colonies. Yet it is often said that French were better colonialists than the British and Spanish and that they put down deeper cultural roots in their colonies. One of the things that binds France to its former colonies is its language and last week leading figures from 55 francophone countries met in Beirut and confirmed their belief in French as an international language of equal importance and utility as English. La Francophonie as it is called represents 80 million mothertongue speakers and also twice as many regular users of French. A clear distinction between the Commonwealth and La Francophonie is that the latter makes no attempt to discuss or take positions on international issues. Given the enormous disparity in outlook on many issues now apparent among the members of the Commonwealth it may be permissible to wonder whether the French approach may have something to be said for it.
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