BRITAIN'S Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, has been in Paris for talks about the forthcoming centenary of the Entente Cordiale. This alliance has never been an easy one, despite comradeship in two wars. The British and French are not alike one another and in many respects do not like one another. Nonetheless, the Entente Cordiale has survived; in April Queen Elizabeth will make a state visit to France and President Chirac will make a return visit in the autumn.

Yesterday, in an interview in the influential newspaper Le Figaro, Mr Straw made an observation about the European Union that was surprising both in itself and in the context of Anglo-French relations: “For Britain to form a partnership with the Franco-German motor,”said Mr Straw, “would be logical once Europe moves from 15 to 25 members.” If that is to be taken as a statement of UK policy - and it is hard to take it in any other way - it means that Britain has decided that the EU should be dominated by a “big three”. What a difference a century makes! When the Entente Cordiale was signed in London on April 8, 1904 its main purpose was to form an alliance against a resurgent Germany.

Some of the smaller EU member states and most of those joining in May will have read Mr Straw's statement with anxiety. They look to Britain as the only heavyweight counter to the strength of the Franco-German relationship in the EU but now, apparently, Britain's preference is to be one of the big boys running the show. However, this could come about only if Britain's commitment to the EU became stronger and more complete than it is at the moment - membership of the single currency, for a start.


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