Opinion: 200 years after Napoleon’s defeat, the French and British are nonetheless exchanging photographs

Editor’s Be aware: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN, twice winner of the Deadline Membership Award, is a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, creator of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” and blogs at Andelman Unleashed. He previously was a correspondent for The New York Instances and CBS Information in Europe and Asia. The views expressed on this commentary belong solely to the creator. View extra opinion at CNN.


Although Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson and the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar are long-ago historical past, France and the UK are apparently nonetheless doing battle. In actual fact, Boris Johnson’s probably successor as UK prime minister and diverse French politicos have just lately been exchanging photographs.

Whereas Russia is launching accelerating salvos at neighboring Ukraine, even threatening nuclear Armageddon, it appears the UK and France – each NATO members – have someway nonetheless not managed to patch issues up.

UK Overseas Secretary Liz Truss, who’s in the course of a bitter intra-party battle towards Rishi Sunak for management of the ruling Conservative get together, was just lately requested whether or not French President Emmanuel Macron is “friend or foe?” Her response, supplied to applause from her clearly partisan viewers, was easy and direct. “The jury’s out.” Then she continued, in a hardly extra conciliatory trend, “But if I become Prime Minister, I’ll judge him on deeds not words.”

These remarks reached Macron when he was on a fragile fence-mending go to of his personal to Algeria, the previous French colony throughout the Mediterranean. The connection between France and Algeria has been particularly prickly since Macron’s feedback final 12 months accusing the Algerian authorities of “exploiting memory” of the colonial previous and “rewriting of history” primarily based on “hatred of France.” For his personal efforts, Macron has taken alongside a 90-person delegation – together with his ministers of finance, inside, protection and international affairs.

So, Macron didn’t appear to have a lot persistence for the opposite swirling rhetorical storm that Truss gave the impression to be conjuring. If the 2 international locations “cannot say whether they are friends or enemies – and that is not a neutral term – then we are headed for serious problems,” the French President mentioned. “The British people, the United Kingdom, is a friendly, strong and allied nation, regardless of its leaders, and sometimes in spite of its leaders or the little mistakes they may make in grandstanding,” he informed reporters.

In fact, Johnson may hardly go up a superb alternative to insert himself into the tempest, with or and not using a teapot. In an obvious effort to ease tensions, he mentioned Macron was “a great fan of our country,” or to verify he was not misunderstood throughout the Channel, “un très bon ‘buddy’ de notre pays.” Elaborating, he noticed relations between the UK and France “of huge importance … They have been very good for a long time, ever since the Napoleonic era basically, and I think we should celebrate that.”

It is a significantly inauspicious second for such rigidity to construct between two anchor nations of the NATO alliance – particularly when they’re on the identical facet of the largest battle in Europe since World Conflict II. Whereas each international locations, together with the remainder of the continent, the USA and a number of different democratically inclined nations, are dealing with down Russia and its escalating threats, the UK and France ought to maybe discover some strategy to get alongside – not less than with a veneer of amicability.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former adviser, has dubbed Truss, not with out some appreciable proof, “the human hand grenade.” The issue is that, currently, there have been voluble grenades lobbed in each instructions throughout a physique of water that the British persist in calling “the English Channel” and the French merely “La Manche” – translated actually as “The Sleeve,” or, if pressed, “The Channel.”

This week, French members of the European Parliament petitioned the European Fee to take authorized motion towards Britain for “dirtying” the Channel and the adjoining North Sea with sewage. This stemmed from air pollution warnings that British officers had themselves issued for dozens of seashores in England and Wales, as water companies started discharging uncooked sewage after a string of heavy rainfalls.

“We cannot put up with the environment, the economic activities of our trawlermen and citizens’ health being seriously endangered by the repeated negligence of the UK in wastewater management,” fumed Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, one of many MEPs who signed a letter calling for authorized motion. “The English Channel and the North Sea are not dumping grounds.” Steve Double, Britain’s water minister, branded the French feedback “unhelpful and ill-informed.”

The Instances, in its preliminary reporting on the matter, didn’t attribute blame on this matter to Brexit. (The UK’s exit settlement could possibly be invoked if it had been discovered to be fouling these waters.) “Britain’s beaches ranked badly even before it left the EU,” the paper’s Paris correspondent Adam Sage admitted.

There’s, in fact, an extended historical past between these two international locations that share such a strategic waterway – again to the time in 1066 when William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel, defeated the Anglo-Saxons on the Battle of Hastings and claimed the throne of England.

Since 1805, the 2 international locations have roughly managed to maintain issues on a good keel – not less than till the UK opted for Brexit, withdrawing from the European Union – which the French had been instrumental in constructing and which Macron served as president of on a rotating foundation this 12 months. What’s adopted have been a succession of contretemps. Issues practically got here to blows 4 years in the past when fishing trawlers of each international locations claimed worthwhile scallop fishing waters.

Now the important query is whether or not issues could be restored to pre-Brexit ranges – and whether or not Truss even needs that to occur. She ought to, for the sake of the UK, the Atlantic Alliance and definitely Ukraine’s battle towards Russia. There isn’t any extra important a second than now for a very united entrance.