The New Franco-British Defence Agreement: Cameron says 'Oui' to Europe

This article was published in the Evening Standard 

Cameron Does Europe as Well as Blair

3 November 2010 

It’s summer 2005 and as I shower and change after an early morning’s tennis with fellow MPs, who should into the Commons changing room wrapped in a towel but David Cameron. I joke that he has to run for leader of the Conservative Party as he is the closest they have to Tony Blair. I add that once elected, he will have to kill some sacred cows, and suggest the Euroscepticism that had done so much damage to John Major’s government might be sacrificed.

“Hmm,” replied Cameron. “I’m more Euroscpetic than you imagine, Denis.” Not any longer, he isn’t. 

Yesterday’s breakthrough deal with France on defence crowns the change in  British strategic policy initiated by Tony Blair when he signed the St Malo accord with President Chirac in 1998. That highlighted the need for Europe to work towards a common defence profile. Yesterday it became reality as Britain and France agreed a wide-range of  policies. 

Europe always starts with one or two countries agreeing a common policy, which then leads to much greater integration. France and Germany locked their currencies together in 1984. Fifteen years later the Euro was born.

The Franco-British deal has the same long-term implications for the defence profile of the EU's 27 nations, most of which are also in NATO. The US will also welcome the Cameron-Sarkozy agreement. 

In September, Hervé Morin, France’s defence minister expressed concern that Europe would become a “protectorat” controlled by a “Chinese-American condominium.” For France, the deal with Britain is precisely to reassert its European leadership on defence matters. 

Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to bury Gaulllist nationalism and re-enter NATO removed one obstacle. The need to cut the deficit gave policy-makers in the UK the chance to nudge Cameron towards a common defence stance. 

As with last week's agreement to a rise in the EU budget, and his repudiation of a referendum on the new EU treaty, Cameron has moved from Thatcher’s “No,No,No” to Blair’s “Oui, Oui,Oui” in six months.

He knows his history. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, Washington sided with the military junta. The first call Mrs Thatcher got from a foreign leader was from French president Francois Mitterrand, who offered to provide all the secrets of the Exocet missles used by the South American nation. Britain has always needed European help. 

Each French president who addresses Parliament has to look at a picture of Waterloo in the Lords. It shows Wellington shaking hands with Blucher, the Prussian general who saved the day. Now a UK premier has shaken hands on a unprecented deal  with a French leader to change Britain’s defence policy in a European direction that, pre-election, no-one would have thought possible. 

Up to May, Cameron fed his MPs the red meat of Euroscepticism, and neo-conservative jokes about French reliability on matters military. The journey from Agincourt to Euro-alliance - as Cameron moves from Henry V to Francophile-in-chief - may be hard for Tory MPs to swallow. But their leader is now as European as ever Tony Blair or even Edward Heath was.