A rocky history of Anglo-French ties

2nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain and France -- centuries-old rivals turned European Union allies -- are signing an agreement on defence cooperation at a summit in London Tuesday.

The two countries have not always been the best of friends and the sometimes rocky state of Franco-British relations has fuelled questions about how the agreement can work in practice.


Britain and France have fought a string of bitter wars over the centuries.

From the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, some of the key dates in both countries' histories relate to Franco-British clashes.

In more recent times, Britain and France worked together during World War II, with Winston Churchill's government supporting the French resistance movement against the Nazis.

But France refused to support the US-led, British backed invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And the long history of conflict has left a legacy of stereotypes and suspicion.

The French are often described in British popular culture as being "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" -- a joke first used on US television show "The Simpsons" following the Iraq war.


Britain and France work closely together in the European Union, but British suspicion of the EU and resistance to closer ties has long caused tensions with France.

While France was an early pioneer of European integration after World War II, Britain only joined the European Community in 1973 and has never joined the single euro currency amid widespread public suspicion of European institutions.

Cameron's government has echoed the euroscepticism of previous Conservative leaders like Margaret Thatcher and wants to pass a law which it says would protect the sovereignty of Britain's parliament over the European Union.

For his part, Sarkozy reportedly said of Cameron soon after he took power earlier this year that he would "start out eurosceptic and finish up pro-European... he'll be like all the others."


Although many are loath to admit it, Britain and France have a surprising amount of common cultural ground, much of it linked to the Norman invasion in 1066.

One of the most striking examples of this is the cross-pollination of English and French words -- "cafe", "genre" and hundreds of other French words are routinely used in English, while the use of English words like "le job" in French has sparked controversy.

Many educated Britons see France as an ideal holiday destination, citing its rich artistic, literary and musical heritage, as well as its gastronomic traditions.

Increasing numbers of French people are also coming to live in Britain thanks to a speedy rail link to Paris and strong financial services sector in London, which now has the sixth-largest population of French people of any city, even in France.

But many of them will never reconcile themselves to British food. One of the most popular French nicknames for Britons is "les rosbifs" -- a mild insult which originally referred to the blandness of British dishes like roast beef.

© 2010 AFP

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