As Great Britain bestows special honors upon French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his visit to London, some in Berlin wonder if Germany is being pushed to the European fringe.
Sarkozy said the Paris-Berlin axis was no longer enough to keep the EU running
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared a new era of cooperation between their countries on Wednesday, March 26, as Sarkozy began a two-day state visit.
Addressing both houses of the British parliament, Sarkozy said the two nations should strive jointly to give their considerable influence maximum impact on world affairs, in a way similar to French and German friendship remaining a European Union "locomotive."
Sarkozy also called for closer cooperation between Britain and France in the nuclear technology and military fields, including Afghanistan, where France intended to increase its support.
French pledge added military support to Afghanistan
French pledges to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan could put pressure Germany
Declaring that "we cannot afford to lose Afghanistan, that the Taliban and al Qaeda return to Kabul," Sarkozy said France would announce at the forthcoming NATO summit in Bucharest its intention to increase its troop strength.
"France has proposed to its allies in the Atlantic alliance a coherent and comprehensive strategy to allow the Afghan people and their legitimate government to build peace," Sarkozy said. "If these proposals are accepted, France will propose at the Bucharest summit strengthening its military presence."
Although he gave no figure, diplomatic sources said the French troop contingent in Afghanistan was expected to be increased by more than 1,000 from the 1,600 currently stationed there.
The French move would come as NATO members with troops in southern Afghanistan call on Berlin to increase the number of soldiers deployed to the country and remove restrictions that keep the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan's relatively safer northern region.
Paris-Berlin axis not sufficient for EU
The EU needs more than Merkel and Sarkozy's partnership can offer
Some political analysts have said the French president is reaching out to Brown because he does not get on well with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Berlin and Paris traditionally dominate the European Union.
In an interview with the BBC before the trip, Sarkozy, who is scheduled to take over the European Council presidency in three months, said France's European policies would no longer be "reduced to friendship with Germany." He added that "the Paris-Berlin axis is fundamental but not sufficient."
Brown for his part told parliament that Paris and London were pursuing a "joint agenda for the future." His talks with Sarkozy scheduled for Thursday would include increased cooperation in the energy, security, environmental protection and economic sectors.
Replying to questions from the lower house, Brown also stressed that while France a key ally, the United States remained "Britain's closest ally" and "most important partner."
Knightly honors for Sarkozy
Prince Charles and wife Camilla welcomed Sarkozy and his wife, Carla, at London's Heathrow Airport before a banquet with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Windsor Castle.
Sarkozy's wife, Carla, was praised for her elegance and taste by the British press
Sarkozy was made an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, the highest rank of one of the oldest orders of British chivalry whose previous recipients include world leaders, including his predecessor Francois Mitterand.
The French leader -- on what is the first by a French head of state in 12 years -- had already called for Britain and France to work "hand in glove" on issues like illegal immigration and terrorism, and to forge "a new Franco-British brotherhood."
Ahead of the visit, Sarkozy called for closer Franco-British ties, telling British broadcaster BBC that both countries should perhaps "move from being cordial to being friendly."
French-British ties under Sarkozy and Brown's predecessors, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair, were fraught as a result of the Iraq war.
"It has been long enough now that we have not been at war, that we are not wrangling," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy and Brown began working as their countries' finance ministers
Sarkozy said the friendship between Britain and France "shouldn't simply be a matter of principle," but one that is "fleshed out by concrete projects on the economy, immigration, security, defense."
Brown said in an interview published Wednesday in the French daily Le Monde that Britain and France will work "hand in hand" to reform international institutions such as the United Nations.
Brown said that he and Sarkozy had worked together for years, when they were both finance ministers, "and we have the same vision of a globalized world."
"France and Britain can therefore work hand in hand with common interests and shared values," Brown said. "This is the case, and you will see it in the coming weeks, of the reform of international institutions created in 1945: the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund."
These organizations, Brown said, "no longer correspond to the challenges of 2008."