Britain and France have far more in common than either does with any third country, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Those tempted to suggest the Anglo-American “special relationship” or the Franco-German “motor of Europe” forget that these are “well-tended relationships”. The reason these pairings are so “fussed over” is out of fear that the natural state between the two states is “divergence (or worse)”. Britain remembers America’s early abstention in both world wars; French dread of a “too-strong Germany” goes back to at least 1870. The time-honoured tradition of Anglo-French bickering comes so easily in part because both sides are relaxed about the underlying compatibility.
To an “eerie degree”, France and Britain are alike in population (67 million) and GDP ($3trn). “Manufacturing is the same 9% share of their economies.” Both countries built and lost global empires and now have “about the same weight” in world affairs. Both believe deeply in the nation state and the value of “hard power” – just look at their nuclear arsenals. They’re also old: England and France became single national entities a millennium before, say, Italy. Perhaps most important, each has a “monstrously dominant” capital city. No other large rich country lives with this “top-heaviness”, where politics, media, finance and culture are all concentrated in one place. And this imbalance leaves both nations with a “false picture of their geopolitical heft” – the UK has a fifth of America’s 330 million people, but a capital as populous as the largest US city. Ultimately, to be British or French is to hear that your best days are ahead of you, “and to pardon the lie”.