Although the word occasionally pops up in Tintin adventures, normally in the mouth of Captain Haddock, there are obvious reasons why a columnist shouldn’t utter the antique French cry of Saperlipopette! very often. It’s a bit like using “gadzooks”, which is one of its approximate English equivalents. But today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so here goes. The news that Emmanuel Macron is proposing to loan the Bayeux tapestry to Britain is étonnant, extraordinaire and incroyable. In fact, all one can say is … Monsieur le Président, saperlipopette!
Well, actually, not quite all. “Thank you” follows very close behind. The Bayeux tapestry is an astonishingly direct and vivid depiction of a pivotal event in Anglo-French history. The story of Duke William’s successful invasion of England in 1066 is told with a clarity that crosses the centuries. Its historic importance is beyond measure and its survival something close to a miracle. Though Bayeux itself is not far away, too few people in this country have had the chance to see the tapestry close up, all 70 metres of it. Allowing it to travel here is a historic cultural gesture on a par with Egypt’s loan of the Tutankhamun treasures a generation ago.
Let’s hope that serious thought goes into deciding where in this country it will be put on display, and what kind of reciprocal gesture Britain should make to France. Yet here we enter the world not of cultural exchanges but of soft-power politics. For Macron’s gesture is every bit as political as it is generous and neighbourly, coming as it has on the eve of an Anglo-French summit at Sandhurst army college, where Brexit and big defence issues are on the agenda. We must therefore ask ourselves the famous question that the great French diplomat Talleyrand, an Anglophile ambassador to London among much else, is said to have asked on hearing of the death of the Turkish ambassador: “I wonder what he meant by that.
It is tempting to imagine that, behind the goodwill and generosity, Macron means to make a hard political point about Brexit. The Bayeux tapestry, after all, depicts a brutal lesson whose metaphorical significance as a story of power politics is hard to miss. The English prince Harold forms an alliance with William of Normandy, then betrays his promise to allow William to succeed. William invades, Harold is killed, and William rules England in his place.
It would be stretching a point to suppose that Macron sees himself as Emmanuel the Conqueror. In spite of his occasional kingly pretensions and personal sense of the importance of political leadership, Macron lives in the real world. But there are other lessons to be learned from the tapestry. One is that Saxon England was not immune to the rest of the world. Another is, bad things can happen if a nation does not keep its promises to its neighbours. A third is, England does not always win. These apply as much in 2018 as they did in 1066.
Before he was president, Macron once said that, when he travels to London on the Eurostar and the City towers in the distance, he sees two things: tall, modern buildings, and French policy failure. That comment should not be misinterpreted. Macron is not a mercantilist. He doesn’t think that international economics is a zero-sum game, in which what is good for London is therefore bad for Paris. What it says to him is that France needs to change.
Macron has been in power for only eight months – too soon to pass a verdict on the Macron project for France. It has many dimensions, including the re-energising of centrist politics, the marginalisation of the extremes of the right and the left, the loosening of the corporate state, the defence of liberal social values and the reassertion of the European Union as a social as well as an economic engine. That’s a big project. Macron is a man with a mission.
In this context, Brexit is an unwelcome distraction for him. He does not want it to happen, and he has made clear that the door would remain open if Britain had a change of mind. But this is not in his or anyone else’s gift. He cannot spend time trying to stop Brexit, and he must proceed on the basis that it will happen. Brexit is both a threat and an opportunity for France. It removes from the EU a country that has often stood out against France’s strategic wish to use the EU to enhance its importance in the world, and to bind Germany in. But it also clearly gives embodiment to the once unthinkable possibility that nations can leave the EU and survive.
Macron therefore comes to Sandhurst on Thursday for talks with Theresa May with a strong interest in binding Britain into as much of the continuing European project, and in cooperating with Britain on as many aspects of policy, as possible. Above all, he does not want Britain to head off into the freewheeling economic or international role that hardline Brexiters dream of. That’s not because it may succeed - it will not. But such an approach to Brexit might challenge the EU economically or weaken Europe in other ways, principally military ones.
When he was still François Hollande’s economic minister in 2016, Macron threatened a tough line against Britain in the event of Brexit. France might abandon its migrant controls in Calais, he said. It might cut trade links rather than negotiate new ones. But Macron now needs to hug Britain close as it leaves the EU. It is in France’s interests for Britain to be bound into the single market and customs union as much as possible, so that jobs do not leak across the Channel in a deregulatory Britain. And it is in France’s interests for British defence clout to be locked into Europe’s needs too.
Britain and France seem fated to be rivals as well as friends. That Sweet Enemy is the book title of one major history of the relationship. Best of Enemies is the title of another. Macron does not offer a special relationship, but he does offer one that works and makes sense. With a bit of luck, he may help to save us from ourselves over the delusions of hard Brexit and the “global” Britain fantasy. Any other way, as the Bayeux tapestry shows, and it could all end badly.
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.