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The Foreign Office do not come out of  Jackson’s account with much credit. Among those duped by de Gaulle in the summer of 1958 was the British ambassador, Sir Gladwyn Jebb, who after being accorded half-an-hour when the general was still a private citizen felt able to inform London that de Gaulle had decided to do little or nothing to achieve power. Three years later Jebb’s successor, Sir Pierson Dixon, predicted that “Future historians will point to 1961 as the year in which General de Gaulle’s fortunes and his authority began to decline.”

At around this time, during a rather maudlin encounter with Harold Macmillan, de Gaulle “spoke of his affection for Britain” and said that he had been “so tiresome” during the war because he represented “a country that was ruined and dishonoured”. But despite this affection de Gaulle savoured his revenge, a dish best eaten cold. He took France out of the military- arm of Nato and instructed Washington to withdraw US garrisons from French soil. And he twice, famously, blocked the United Kingdom’s applications to join the Common Market. 

Macron does not suffer from “Anglo-Saxonphobia”. But he has already challenged American policy in the Middle East and was one of the most determined defenders of the Iran nuclear treaty. And in international affairs he is striving to go one better. De Gaulle viewed the rivalry between France and Germany for European leadership as an inevitable geographical fact, but once he was back in power in the 1960s he did everything he could to replace a hundred years of murderous struggle with a permanent alliance and made a particular friend of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Macron, in his turn, dances attendance on Angela Merkel, and as her popularity wanes after 13 years, and the French economy strengthens in response to Macron’s tax and employment reforms, the French president intends to replace the German chancellor as the dominant leader of the European Union. And he may savour the irony that, in striving to emulate de Gaulle as the national messiah, he should be so greatly helped by the UK’s decision to abandon the EU, leaving France as the only member state with a nuclear deterrent and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As a close student of de Gaulle, he may even recall the general’s prophecy, made when the United States entered the war in 1941: “From now the English will do whatever Roosevelt decides.”

But if you want to lead Europe, there has to be a Europe to lead. The election of an Italian government prepared to defy Brussels rules on economic probity and form independent ties with Vladimir Putin, could yet dash Macron’s hopes and he is said to be increasingly concerned by the growing strength of east European nationalism. “Europe is undergoing profound change”, he said recently. “Our old continent is no longer protected from the storm, as it has been since 1945. Tragedy is once more becoming part of our history”. Perhaps, for Emmanuel Macron, the heroic scale beckons after all.

It was certainly appropriate that the most recent meeting between Macron and Merkel should have taken place in Aix-la-Chapelle, as the French persist in calling the German city of Aachen, once the residence of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the first emperor of Europe.
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June 10th, 2018
3:06 PM
The "X" have ruled for long enough to forget that the Battle of the Palace of the Martyrs was not the finish of Empire-building, but only a setback for the losers. This time the invasion is all but complete and just awaits the end-game.

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