Socialist French President François Mitterrand and conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Together, they were the titans of European and world politics in the 80s. Together, they harkened back to the era when the fate of the world was decided by the statesmen of Europe in her chancelleries. … and they didn’t get along well.
Thatcher was taught as a child by her grocer father that the French were both Roman Catholic and Communist and riddled with sexual disease; Mitterand said that Margaret Thatcher had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe’. Thatcher’s finest European hour came in 1984 when she marched into Fontainebleau to demand the ‘British rebate’–66% rebate from the French and the Germans who wanted to give only 50%.
However, these two statesmen accomplished one monumental project together: the Chunnel. Thatcher said she had no objection to a privately funded project to bridge the English channel, and in 1981, Thatcher and Mitterrand agreed to set up a working group to look into a privately funded project. Four submissions were shortlisted and in 1986, the Eurotunnel bid was selected. Foreign Affairs Ministers of both countries signed the Franco-British Treaty in Canterbury, which was ratified in 1987 by Thatcher and Mitterrand (above) inside the famed Chapter House, in Canterbury Cathedral.
The tunnel was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Mitterrand in a ceremony held in Calais on 6 May 1994.