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Monday, 8 May 2017

Good for France? Maybe. Bad for Britain? Definitely!

Today is VE Day: the celebration of victory in 1945. One of the most amazing aspects of that victory is that deGaulle's France was counted as one of the winning allies. It was awarded a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a small slice of the occupation of Germany and of Austria, a sector of Berlin and an honoured place in the conferences where post-war Europe was carved up between the USSR and the 'western allies'.

Yet from August 1940 to the middle of 1944 France was effectively occupied by the Germans: though a small sector of the country called Vichy France [after its capital] was run as a Nazi puppet state. Most of the French nation acquiesced in the situation; a great hero of the First World War served as Head of the Vichy State and a leading politician acted as his first minister. Many more French men and women than has ever been admitted collaborated actively with the Germans. Nevertheless, Churchill was able to persuade Roosevelt to accept deGaulle as a junior partner in the alliance, and for his own reasons Stalin went along with that. deGaulle and his 'Free French' set about purging the most conspicuous collaborators. They executed Laval and imprisoned the extremely aged Petain. But they allowed most of the old establishment to reinvent themselves as democrats in a 'Fourth Republic' that eventually collapsed in its own corruption, to make way for the current Fifth Republic.

It was commonly said, in Britain as I was growing up, that "The French will never forgive us for saving them in two World Wars" and that has proved to be tragically true.

Today France has a new President-Elect, who was not born when the Fifth Republic was established. He has a great reputation as a pianist, an Economist, a banker and a chancer. Like Donald Trump, he owes his elevation to no party, though in the coming days we will see a coalition of the longstanding parties forming to give him a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament. He has said - in English, in Downing Street - that he will do all that a President of France can do to encourage financial services firms, especially banks, to move from London to Paris; and he will act vigorously and knowledgeably to frame both EU regulations and the negotiators' brief in the Brexit talks to the maximum extent possible to impede the continuance of London's lead in world finance. Fortunately, the French legal system and the capacities of French nationals cannot be changed enough, fast enough to enable Paris to take over London's role; but he may be able to engineer things so that New York is a net gainer from Brexit, rather than Paris or Frankfort.

Everything that Macron has said in the election campaign marks him out as a fresh face fronting a typical, traditional member of the French elite. As an Economist who is surrounded by Economists, his promises to 'restore' the social structure and the economy will prove nugatory. There is very little that he can do to reduce the alienation of the largest Muslim population in Europe, or to eradicate terrorism. He will court President Tusk and Chancellor Merkel, be polite to Donald Trump and woo the Chinese for French trade, especially in finance. Having worked in international banking he can not be unaware of his huge disadvantage: the world is not going to learn French to trade with him: he knows that he must use English as Mrs Merkel uses Russian, and this will always emphasise the limitations of aliens trading with and within France.

In summary, he may be able to do a few good things for ordinary French people, as a new front for the French establishment; but he will be a damned nuisance to Brexit Britain.

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