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The Entente Cordiale Legacy and a renewed UK-France Partnership


The Entente Cordiale, a series of agreements signed in 1904 that ushered in a new era of cooperation between Britain and France, is celebrating its 120th anniversary. 

While these historic rivals had long been locked in competition for colonial dominance, the Entente Cordiale settled outstanding disputes and paved the way for collaboration on a global stage. Today, as we reflect on this legacy, it serves as a timely reminder of the enduring spirit of cooperation that can bridge divides and build a stronger future. 

The story of the Entente Cordiale is not merely one of governments shaking hands. The business community played a crucial role in fostering closer ties. In 1904 the French Chamber of Great Britain actively supported French Ambassador Paul Cambon's negotiations. This spirit of collaboration extended beyond diplomacy. Business leaders on both sides of the Channel championed closer economic ties. Today, the French Chamber continues this legacy, fostering business cooperation through its advocacy work and the recently established UK-France Business Forum

In recent years, there was a noticeable shift in the relationship between the British and the French. The UK’s decision to leave the EU blew like a cold wind across it. The protracted Brexit negotiations cast a long shadow, with the thorny issue of the Northern Irish border only being resolved in 2023 through the adoption of the Windsor Framework. Further difficulties came from the AUKUS pact, a security arrangement between the US, UK, and Australia, announced without prior knowledge of France.  

However, 2023 was a turning point. The UK-France Summit, described by French President Macron as a moment to "reconnect," marked a significant warming of relations. While the Joint Leader’s Declaration is not a binding agreement, its positive direction for the future emphasises renewed commitment to cooperation, similar to the Entente Cordiale.  


In a world confronting an array of complex challenges, from climate change to security threats, a strong Franco-British partnership remains as relevant as ever. The current context, however, necessitates a new framework for cooperation. A single, overarching agreement is unlikely with the UK outside the EU, rather a multi-tiered partnership, focusing on specific areas through different channels, holds greater promise. 

This multi-tiered approach should leverage the strengths of both governments and the business community. Government-to-government cooperation can address issues like defence, security and climate change, where coordinated action is essential. Business-to-business collaboration can unlock economic opportunities and drive innovation. The Chamber’s UK France Business Forum, established in 2022 as a joint venture between the French Chamber of Great Britain and its counterpart the Franco-British Chamber in Paris, serves as a vital platform for this purpose. 

The Forum brings together key stakeholders and business leaders from both sides of the Channel to discuss unlocking trade and investment opportunities. One specific area of focus is the development of a hydrogen economy. Recognising hydrogen's potential as a clean energy source, the Business Forum is exploring how business-led initiatives can progress political and commercial cooperation in this sector.

Another area that is primed for collaboration is artificial intelligence (AI). Both Britain and France boast strong tech sectors and scientific communities. The upcoming International AI Safety Summit in France presents a valuable opportunity to build on the success of the inaugural summit held at Bletchley Park in the UK (2023). Our Business Forum is actively working with stakeholders to set a summit agenda that helps businesses embrace AI and unlock its economic and productivity potential.  

The smooth movement of people and goods remains critical for fostering strong ties. Our common borders facilitate trade, investment, and tourism. While the issue of mobility needs careful consideration within the framework of the EU-UK relationship, recent developments offer a glimmer of hope. The Summit committed both governments to a technical working group under joint ministerial oversight. While this willingness to address bilateral mobility issues is encouraging, the French Chamber urges both governments to expedite progress, especially in Youth Mobility where skill shortages impede growth across various sectors.  

The legacy of the Entente Cordiale reminds us that even historic rivals can forge a path towards cooperation. The challenges facing Britain and France in the 21st century necessitate a renewed sense of partnership. This partnership, built upon the foundation laid by the Entente Cordiale 120 years ago, must be multi-tiered and adapt to change. It must leverage the strengths of both governments and the business community, focusing on critical areas like mobility, security, climate change, and technology. 

Britain and France can build a stronger, more prosperous future by working together across these priorities. The French Chamber of Great Britain, through its long history of fostering Franco-British cooperation and its initiatives like the UK-France Business Forum, remains committed to playing a vital role in this process.  

We invite our members and all those who share a vision of a renewed Entente Cordiale to join us. Please visit our website to learn more about our work and take a short survey. Together, we can ensure that the spirit of cooperation that defined the Entente Cordiale continues to guide the Franco-British relationship for the next 120 years. 

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