Macron and Sunak meet – but one needs more support
London/Paris When former British Prime Minister Liz Truss was asked last year if France’s President Emmanuel Macron “Rather friend or foe,” she left the answer open.
Her successor Rishi Sunak travels to Paris on Friday to mend years of strained relations between the allied rivals. The most important reason: London urgently needs help from Paris to stop the illegal immigration of refugees across the English Channel.
“This is the beginning of a wonderful, renewed friendship,” signaled the Élysée Palace even before the guest arrived Great Britain. It is the first summit meeting in five years, after relations between London and Paris had cooled noticeably as a result of the British leaving the EU and the British government even called on its Royal Navy to help in the dispute over fishing rights.
The traditional rivalry was exacerbated by the fact that former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called himself “Mr. Brexit” profiled, while Macron posed with the self-portrait of “Mr. Europe” showed.
In the meantime, not only the dispute over fish has been settled. Sunak has also ended the conflict with the EU over Northern Ireland, which the Briton hopes will pave the way for better relations with Paris. The Windsor Agreement “simplifies the discussions at all levels,” says the Élysée unanimously.
New chapter of cooperation
The hope in Paris is to start a new chapter with Sunak. “The priority of the summit is to reconnect,” said a Macron adviser, “it was helpful that Mr. Sunak France as a friendly country, an ally and a partner.”
It could also be helpful that both heads of government share a number of similarities: Sunak and Macron both come from business backgrounds, both have great political ambitions in common and both are currently fighting mass strikes in their own country.
But the most important difference is that Sunak needs Macron’s help more than vice versa at the moment. “If the Prime Minister wants to stop the refugee boats, he needs more support from Paris,” says Hans Kundnani, foreign policy expert at the Chatham House think tank in London.
Earlier this week, Sunak presented a new law against illegal migration, which is intended to limit the sharp increase in the number of boat people crossing the English Channel. Last year alone, more than 45,000 migrants came to Britain this way – many of them starting their dangerous crossing from French beaches.
Sunak wants to urge Macron on Friday to tighten border controls on the coast. The Frenchman will probably have to pay dearly for this. Great Britain is already transferring the equivalent of around 70 million euros to Paris every year so that French border guards do not even let the refugees onto the water.
British Tory MP Tim Loughton criticized: “British taxpayers have been generously subsidizing the French police for several years now and in that time we have seen a significant increase in the number of refugees.”
In Paris, on the other hand, the British plan to arrest illegal immigrants and deport them without examination is viewed critically. “It should not have escaped anyone that the United Nations questioned the compatibility of the law with Britain’s international obligations,” the French said.
>> Read here: London wants to deter boat people with draconian measures
London’s hope of sending the refugees back to France will probably not come true. Since Brexit, there has been no agreement between Paris and London to take back migrants. That will not happen in the future either, it said in the Élysée. However, both countries wanted to increase “operational cooperation” on handling migrants and monitoring the maritime border.
London and Paris both rely on the expansion of nuclear energy
Macron also wants to cooperate more closely with London on security policy. There has been a defense agreement since 2010, which also includes joint armaments programs such as the development of a new cruise missile for naval combat.
The security pact has meanwhile been overshadowed by the military alliance Aukus, in which the British have joined forces with the USA and Australia. France felt left out – not only because the country has its own geopolitical interests in the Pacific region. The French defense industry also lost a lucrative submarine order from the Australian armed forces.
However, Paris wants to let the disputes rest. “We have a war in Europe,” said a Macron adviser. Chatham House expert Kundnani takes a similar view: “Due to the war in Ukraine, the old disputes have become less important.” Many Europeans are only now realizing that Great Britain is an important factor for security in Europe.
Paris and London want to agree on a “strategic partnership” in energy policy, where both countries rely on greater use of nuclear power. The French power company EDF is currently building a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in the UK and has an order for another reactor at Sizewell.
More: London wants to deter boat people with draconian measures