But when it comes to negotiating rites of passage in Brussels, it seems that sentiment is allowed to cloud British national judgement. Churchill did not make the same mistake.
www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk . . .
Blair should follow Churchill's tack in dealing with the French
By Eric Waugh
11 August 2004
I have hazy recollections of Marc Cecillon, the huge six-feet-three lock forward on the French rugby team who retired five years ago. He scored nine international tries and captained the international XV.
But last Saturday M. Cecillon, now 45 and the father of two daughters, went to a party with his wife, Chantal, a medical secretary, at Saint Savin, a village near their home, 25 miles along the eastern autoroute out of Lyons which leads towards the mountains round Chambery.
It was an open-air party. There were about 60 there, mostly French rugby players, past and present. As is not unusual on social occasions built round the camaraderie of the oval ball, there was a fair amount to drink.
In fact M. Cecillon, a former pastrycook, was said by friends late in the evening to be drunk himself. Accounts differ in detail; but it seems the large Frenchman had been arguing with his wife before they went to the party and had more loud words with her at it.
Just after eleven o'clock he left without her. He went back to their home, about five miles away, returning to the party just before midnight. Seeking out his wife, he produced a pistol before the assembled company and shot her three times in the head and throat.
As his wife collapsed, panic gripped the guests; but a group of Cecillon's ex-colleagues had enough presence of mind to seize him. He sustained blows to the head and was taken to hospital.
There he slept off his drunkenness, to awake on Sunday morning to be told the horrific tale. He is now in a prison cell charged with murder.
French rugby captains do not normally shoot their wives; but the tale does drive home a hard truth - that the French as a people can be wilful and headstrong to the point of violence.
Their driving manners are notorious. So much so that they have now captured from the Germans the doubtful distinction of killing more people on their roads than any other nation in the EU.
This wilfulness is also translated into shameless defence of the national interest. On the State-sensitive television service, the news is blatantly managed to that end.
President Bush attends an EU summit outside Limerick and gets nine seconds on the main evening bulletin at eight o'clock. But the American fat boy, Michael Moore, presenting his mendacious tract, Fahrenheit Nine-Eleven, on the same day at Cannes, gets several minutes. The decisive factor is that Moore, being anti-Bush, accords with the national interest.
It is held to be important to the national interest that the Germans be kept on board as joint spearhead of the EU project; so a hotel used by business people in central France carries a bold notice in the restaurant that all meats served are from France and Germany.
In the bedrooms there are French and German channels on the piped television - but no English: which is difficult for guests, such as the Japanese in front of me at the check-out, who speaks English to the clerk and pays with an Anglo-Saxon Visa card.
The British flock to France year by year because there is a national love of the French countryside, of its food, its space and the relics of its antiquity.
But when it comes to negotiating rites of passage in Brussels, it seems that sentiment is allowed to cloud British national judgement.
Churchill did not make the same mistake. Winston loved lolling in the sun on Cap Ferrat; his great heroine was Joan of Arc. But he took his cue from de Gaulle, who warned in 1945: "We shall stun you with our ingratitude".
I once wandered round de Gaulle's home on the edge of the sleepy village of Colombey-les Deux Eglises. All the photographs in the study carry flattering dedications - except Churchill's, which is economically inscribed: "To President de Gaulle from Winston Churchill". There was not a single volume in English on the bookshelves.
De Gaulle saw mechanised war coming in 1939: his superiors did not - and had no stomach for a fight. Winston knew it, and never forgave their making a separate peace with Hitler.
Blair needs to summon up a similar resolve as he confronts the excesses of the proposed EU Constitution.
The French, sensibly, look after No 1 - and give not two figs whom it annoys.