Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: PM makes little headway as he courts French President

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Francois Hollande greets John Key at the Elysee Palace yesterday during Mr Key's trip to Europe. Photo / Claire Trevett
Francois Hollande greets John Key at the Elysee Palace yesterday during Mr Key's trip to Europe. Photo / Claire Trevett

Prime Minister John Key gave New Zealand wine to the Queen and British Prime Minister David Cameron - but he was diplomatic enough not to foist "New World wine" on the French President.

Instead, Francois Hollande was given Untouched World clothing.

Mr Key met Mr Hollande in the Elysee Palace on the final leg of his trip to Europe to gather support for free trade and Security Council seats - and have a catch-up on the international issues of the day.

The Prime Minister emerged slightly pessimistic about free trade, acknowledging there was still quite a bit of work to do. New Zealand is one of only five World Trade Organisation nations not yet in talks with the EU - and it has said it wants to complete those already in the process before starting on more.

However, Security Council bids and free trade deals are both examples of cases where it might actually pay to mention the war.

France has always had a martial ambience, celebrating its great wartime leaders and victories through monuments.

So Mr Key pulled out that arsenal, sneakily bringing up the looming centenary celebrations for World War I.

That brought with it a reminder of New Zealand's war effort on French soil and the roots of the historic relationship between New Zealand and France, despite the warts that have popped up from time to time.

In terms of the Security Council bid, despite saying that New Zealand would not be influenced by the bid in its approach to Syria, Mr Key clearly decided a bit of flattery goes a long way.

So he congratulated Mr Hollande for his strong stance on Syria.

France and the United States were in favour of a missile strike even without a UN mandate, which could still be on the cards if Syria does not go through with a proposal to hand over its chemical weapons. Mr Key also came out with the right words when the issue of New Caledonia's referendum on independence was raised, saying it was up to France to decide what to do although the Pacific Islands Forum was considering whether to admit it as a member state.

As for the wine, one of President Hollande's austerity measures after he was elected in 2012 was to hock off the contents of the wine cellar in the Elysee Palace. He may be regretting it now. The French papers this week carried polls showing Mr Hollande was the least popular of any French president since polling began.

Mr Key was as diplomatic about that as he was about the gift - saying it would be inappropriate for him to give advice to Mr Hollande on popularity, and pointing to the difficulties most European leaders faced in implementing potentially unpopular austerity measures.

All that bad news for Mr Hollande, and nothing to drown his sorrows with.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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