The Entente Cordiale — 100 years on

One hundred years ago, the Entente Cordiale – the popular name for the agreement signed in London on April 8, 1904 by the British foreign secretary and the French ambassador – put an end to centuries of intermittent conflicts which had made France and Britain into «the best of enemies.» Since that day, our two countries have continued to strengthen their links and are, today, united in a shared European destiny. The past hundred years have been marked by common struggles for the values that Britain and France have long shared. Now, we look to the European Union as a place of progress, liberty and security. Our two countries, together with their partners, have their role to play at the heart of this Union. Since before the 20th century, our two peoples have fought alongside each other. Our first joint action was in support of the Greek cause. Initially, it was our intellectuals who mobilized in support of Greek independence. After the Greek uprising of 1821, they condemned the repression perpetrated by the Ottoman troops and, while Delacroix painted «The Massacres of Chios,» Lord Byron went to fight at Mesolongi, where he lost his life. After the battle of Navarino, on October 20, 1827, where the British, French and Russian navies confronted the Ottoman fleet, Greece gained its independence in 1829. The term Entente Cordiale refers both to the specific agreements entered into to settle colonial disputes between France and Britain in different parts of the world and to the rapprochement which characterized relations between the two countries after the turn of the century. The Entente Cordiale also laid the groundwork for an agreement against the expansionism of the Axis powers and, in addition, for an enduring alliance. Thus, the First World War saw British and French troops side by side in the trenches and in the Dardanelles Straits. During the interwar years, our two countries pursued shared diplomatic aims. The Second World War invigorated the alliance between our two peoples and Churchill responded with admirable determination to General de Gaulle’s appeal, carried on the BBC. Speaking from London, de Gaulle was therefore able to tell the Commons that «Britain and France are united, in life and in death, by the same destiny and the same ideals.» Greece showed equal tenacity during this conflict. United in a common resistance struggle, France, Britain and Greece carried out joint operations on Greek soil, confirming the determination of democracies to put an end to totalitarianism. The bond between our two countries was confirmed during the second half of the 20th century, as we confronted the same challenges: decolonization, the Cold War and European reconstruction. It is in this context that Britain and France warmly welcomed Greece as a member of the European Economic Community in 1981. The bond is even stronger today, against a background of further enlargement of the EU and of the growing threat from terrorism which, as we saw from the tragic events in Madrid, constitutes such a serious threat to democracy. Despite occasional differences, the relationship between France and Britain rests on shared values, mutual attraction and on the intensity of the links between our two countries. The Franco-British relationship is nourished by the shared heritage which makes us committed to justice and liberty as well as fiercely attached to our national identities. The exchanges between our two countries have never been as intense and the contacts between our peoples are growing. Many millions of French citizens travel to the UK every year and a similar number of Britons travel in the opposite direction. These exchanges have, of course, been translated in to the cultural domain, too. Voltaire, Dickens, Zola, Locke and many others traversed the Channel, and the experience profoundly marked their work. The links are becoming ever more intense as the number of joint degrees offered by our universities and colleges continues to grow. And sport is another good example, as the number of French footballers in the Premier League bears witness. And Britain and France work closely together in many international organizations. Given the intensity of these exchanges, the quality of the relationship between our two countries contributes to the strengthening of the European Union. Britain and France have a particularly decisive role to play in an area vital for the development of the Union: defense. Without a European defense capacity, the Union will never be able fully to take its rightful place on the international scene. The 1998 St Malo agreement marked a new stage in this regard and reflected our shared aims of a stronger, swifter, more coherent voice in international foreign policy, backed up by strengthened EU military capabilities, to enable Europe to respond better to security challenges. This initiative made it possible to relaunch a European defense policy of which those first operations in Congo and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were a direct result. Alongside France, Britain and Germany, Greece has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to a strong Europe with credible military capabilities at its disposal. This strengthening of the Union is equally essential for reinforcing transatlantic relations. Democracies still face new dangers. Together, at the heart of a strong, united Europe, we can contribute to resolving conflicts by bringing people closer together. Alongside Germany and their other partners, not least Greece, the UK and France have a crucial role to play to foster European unity and create a more certain and more just world.

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