Entente Tres Cordiale: France and Britain Almost Became One Nation

France and Britain have competed with each other for territory and power for centuries. Now secret documents reveal that the two old rivals came close to forming a union in the 1950s.

The French and British have always regarded each other with mutual suspicion and rivalry. The British are envious of the Frenchmen's savoir de vivre but dismiss them as a nation of "frogs." The French retort by putting their finger in the Anglo wound that is bad food and call them "rosbif." French President Jacques Chirac even described the Brits as untrustworthy people because of their "bad cuisine" when London made its Olympic bid two years ago -- and defeated Paris.

British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (l) welcomes French Prime Minister Guy Mollet to London in this March 1956 archive photo. Mollet proposed merging France with Britain in the 1950s, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
AFP

British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (l) welcomes French Prime Minister Guy Mollet to London in this March 1956 archive photo. Mollet proposed merging France with Britain in the 1950s, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

Hence French and Brits alike will be surprised to learn that they almost become compatriots fifty years ago. French prime minister Guy Mollet suggested a Franco-Anglo union to his English counterpart Anthony Eden in 1956, reports the BBC, citing newly-released documents from the British National Archives.

The formerly secret government cabinet paper dated Sept. 10, 1956 reads: "When the French prime minister, Monsieur Mollet was recently in London he raised with the prime minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France." The extraordinary suggestion was turned down, however, meaning that the prospect of a new Anglo-French country would remain an intriguing historial hypothesis.

The reason for the unlikely proposal was that France was then undergoing a troubled period. Egypt had just nationalized the Suez Canal and was supporting separationism in French Algeria. The insurgency was proving expensive for France, so Mollet decided to look for British support.

The Middle East was also emerging as a new conflict zone -- and France was allied with Israel and Britain with Jordan, meaning the World War II allies could end up fighting each other. Anglophile Mollet was hoping to strengthen his country's position by teaming up with Britain, but the kingdom wasn't too keen on the idea.

Seeing as a merger was out of the question, Mollet asked instead to join the Commonwealth on "a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis," according to another previously secret document obtained by the BBC. Again, the idea was not taken up. Mollet appears to have quietly forgotten the proposal and it is not mentioned in French archives, the BBC reported.

Instead, France aligned itself with another former enemy -- Germany. Just one year after its failed courtship of the UK, France devoted itself to a new union: the founding of the European Economic Community, which would later become the European Union.

Fifty years later, the UK and France still squabble over EU policies. It could all have turned out so differently.

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