The True Meaning of Solidarity, M. Hollande

Cher M. Hollande,

First, let me congratulate you on your victory. You are about to become president of a great country which is at the heart of European affairs and a major influence on world politics.

Second, I accept that much of the scaremongering about your intentions is no doubt (hopefully) misplaced. You are an experienced politician who has been in and around power for many years and you will be fully aware of the realities all we Europeans face. Only together have we the slightest hope of escaping from the many dangers that confront us. Third, let me apologize for my Prime Minister, David Cameron. Whoever was advising Mr Cameron to publicly support M. Sarkozy should be shot.

The February article in Le Monde was particularly ill-advised. It has been clear for sometime to anyone with even the slightest modicum of political sense that you were likely to be the next incumbent of the Élysee. The word on the political street is that Downing Street was being advised by the Paris Embassy. That does not add up. First, knowing the quality of British diplomats at the embassy I find it very hard to believe that they would make such a basic error of political analysis. Second, this has all the hallmarks of an incompetent Downing Street machine trying to shift blame for their own failings onto poor civil servants who cannot speak for themselves. Nothing new there then.

So, having got the Yorkshire political finesse out of the way (I know you French like that kind of thing) let me cut to the quick (this will help your already excellent English). No sooner had you won on Sunday than you went on radio to attack Britain for protecting our vital national interests. Put simply, M. Hollande, we are in for a very rocky road if we are to have another five years of you French blaming we British for being right about the Euro and then attacking us for a lack of ‘solidarity’ when we defend a fundamental national interest – the City. This is even more galling when you French think it perfectly fair to protect French national interests often (and this really gets me) in the name of ‘Europe’. Indeed, the logic of the interview you gave was essentially to attack we British for being right about the structural flaws in the Euro and then insist we pay for fixing it.

My point is this (yes, I have finally arrived at my point which given your ENA training will no doubt condemn me as another sloppy Brit); do not expect to attack us one day and then expect us to co-operate the next. Specifically, if you set out to impose a City of London-bashing Financial Services Transaction Tax you can forget co-operation over defense. You know as well as I do that some 90% of that tax will be paid by the City of London and that it will represent a direct attack on British strategic interests. You also know there is no such thing as a free tax and that not only will it damage the competitiveness of the City of London (a French strategic objective?) but damage the British economy and by extension the hard-pressed ordinary Briton.

In that light let me offer you two pieces of advice (I do not offer them ‘humbly’ as I do not do humble). First, given the context you may wish to avoid use of that tedious French word ‘solidarité’. You are about to leave for a NATO summit in Chicago at which you will announce the early withdrawal of France’s excellent troops from Afghanistan. I have had the honor on occasions of working with the French military and they do great honor to your great country. However, the bottom-line is this (as we say in Yorkshire), your early withdrawal will mean more British troops will die and we British (and Americans) have done too much of the dying in Afghanistan. For that reason we find talk of ‘solidarité’ just ever so slightly hypocritical.

Second, seize this moment to fashion a new start in what remains a critical Franco-British relationship. We need to accentuate the positives in our relationship (and there are many) to find a way forward for all Europeans at this difficult time. Specifically, we need an early British-French-German summit that can coldly and practically address all the challenges we face – economic, social and security. High level unity of purpose and effort is critical at this dangerous moment and all we are getting is division, discord and narrow political calculation. The Great European Crisis is a big strategic picture crisis needing big power strategic and systemic solutions. Real solidarity means that at the very least Europe’s three major powers act together for the good of all. Without such an injection of strategic political purpose the institutions, be it the EU and/or NATO will fail and once again the ordinary European citizen will have been failed by you the über-élite.

So, in conclusion (yes, there is one) let us together put meaning into solidarity M. Hollande. Hold off on your Brit-bashing and treat us with the respect we deserve and we will reciprocate by working with you to build a relationship that can help get us all through the very turbulent days that doubtless lay ahead.

With sincere best wishes for your success in office,

Julian Lindley-French

Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.

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