Skip to main content


Time to be nicer to France?

President Macron on a trip to Iraq last week. Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

“Who would have thought it?” asks Le Monde. Emmanuel Macron is finally making sluggish old France an “anti-Covid champion”. Eight months into our vaccine rollout, we’re outstripping the UK, Germany, the US and even Israel. By the start of September, 50 million people had had at least a single jab. That’s 75% of the population. To everyone’s surprise, the president’s “health pass” – a proof of vaccination needed for public spaces, introduced in July – has been a “spectacular” success. It riled the opposition, who said the French loved “la liberté” too much to endure this “health dictatorship”. But vaccine coverage jumped from 55% to 70% in just over a month.

It’s been a good few months for the Elysée, says Victor Mallet in the FT. In May, three months before Kabul fell to the Taliban, France began evacuating its friends and families from Afghanistan. About 620 people were flown to France in the weeks before the Afghan army collapsed, in addition to the 800 who were yanked out in 2014. France’s foresight was initially put down to having better spies, but it was simply more shrewd at reading the data everyone else had. America was blinded by “wishful thinking” regarding the Afghan army’s competence. Paris has also learnt from its failures against Islamists in the Sahel, often labelled “France’s Afghanistan”.

All of which is good reason for Britain to cosy up to France, says Stephen Bush in The Sunday Times. Afghanistan has awakened us to America’s unreliability. Kabul, and the US’s unilateral action there, carries echoes of the Suez crisis. The next president will either be “Trump or Trumpish”, so Britain needs a new best friend, and the gulf between our PM and Macron is “smaller than it is sometimes in the interests of either side to pretend”. Channel crossings are a shared interest and French and British security circles are “getting on like a house on fire”, one official told me. Don’t forget that in the past decade, France and the UK intervened without the US in Libya. The two countries are both involved in the Sahel and Mali, again without Uncle Sam.

That’s wishful thinking, says Anne-Elisabeth Moutet in the Telegraph. The next president of France has a vested interest in painting Britain as “an easily defined bogeyman”. If Macron wins in April 2022, he wants to style himself as “the next natural leader” of the EU, which will require some Britain-bashing. The unpredictable Marine Le Pen is “a woman whose party’s mascot has been Joan of Arc from its creation”. Both have “weaponised anti-Britishness”. The only contender in the electoral race “neither vindictive nor imaginative” enough to play off Britain is Michel Barnier, the “ogre of Brexit”, who threw his hat into the ring last week. You’ll remember him for giving Theresa May headaches, but he’s reasonable. Sadly, he elicits “boredom of catatonic proportions” among the French. At this stage, I’m afraid he’s “the best you may get”.