Sarkozy

There was great excitement at Westminster this week over the visit of a French VIP.  The glamorous former model, Carla Bruni, was the centre of attention when she appeared before members of the Lords and the Commons combined in the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster.

She was joined by her new husband, who is also President of France.  Speaking in French, Nicolas Sarkozy received a warm reception when he said that France would "never forget" Britain's role in liberating their country.

He said that ties between the two countries had never been so close, pointing out that the number of French citizens living in London makes it the seventh-largest French city!

I was fortunate to have a seat near the front, and although he is not tall, the President cuts an impressive figure, speaking with passion and animation.  His determination to reform France was clear, and his recognition of Britain's special relationship with the US was diplomatic.

Monsieur Sarkozy has openly reversed the hostility of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, towards the US, and it at first sight we are moving into a less polarised era.  The Republican US presidential candidate, John McCain, recently gave his strong support to an effective European Security and Defence Policy.

But the thorny question will be whether a European defence capability will compete with, or complement, NATO which has been the cornerstone of our defence for 60 years.

Monsieur Sarkozy said that, in relation to Europe, we "see eye to eye far more often than we disagree."  But there will be important differences.  When France talks about agricultural reform, they mean higher tariffs.  And although the President's rejection of "27 national immigration policies" sounds seductive, a common asylum policy would be unacceptable to Britain.

The President's call for a new "entente amicable" and for closer co-operation is welcome.  But that is very different to giving up more power to the EU.

Michelle Taylor