Saturday 25 March 2006 19:00-19:15 (Radio 4 FM)
Repeated: Sunday 26 March 2006 17:40-17:54 (Radio 4 FM)
The BBC's Paris correspondent,
Caroline Wyatt, profiles French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin,
the man who wants to fill President Chirac's shoes.
Next week is a make or break week for Dominique de Villepin, whose controversial youth unemployment law has led to protests in Paris and elsewhere.
While the aristocratic, poetry writing politician says he might compromise slightly over plans to end the jobs for life culture in his country, he won't back down. Trade unions are calling his bluff and plan a day of action next Tuesday.
But has he alienated voters and his own supporters too much?
The opponents of the First Job Contract (CPE), whose five previous protests mobilised millions across the country, vowed to keep up their guard until new measures to replace the "easy hire, easy fire" law for young workers have been passed.
The marches were due to start in the early afternoon. "We are calling for the pressure to be kept up until parliament votes the repeal of the CPE, including by blocking universities if necessary," said Unef students' union head Bruno Julliard.
Unions refrained from calling for fresh strikes and some universities, including the protest centre at Rennes in western France, voted to reopen classes with Easter holidays and spring examinations fast approaching.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who emerged strengthened after his rival Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was forced to withdraw the law, argued that the government's flip-flop did not mean Paris could not pass needed but unpopular changes.
"I don't think the French refuse reforms," he told Europe 1 radio. "The French accept change but always want to be assured that it is fair. They found these proposals unfair."
But Sarkozy admitted there was little leeway for change in the twilight of Jacques Chirac's 12-year presidency: "You don't reform the same way at the end of an administration as you do at the beginning."
The business daily La Tribune disagreed, saying that the CPE and Villepin's pride were not the only victims of the unrest.
"Alas, the hope for reform has been buried with them," it wrote. "No important reform can be undertaken in the 12 months ahead of us until the 2007 presidential election. And nothing says it will be easier after that."
Another business daily, Les Echos, said: "The politicians have no real margin for error anymore. After so many years of failure on the jobs front, they're not far from collectively losing all of their credit."
This evening forecasts by four pollsters showed Sarkozy, 52, a hardline former interior minister, won around 53 percent of the vote in the second-round ballot and will succeed fellow conservative Jacques Chirac, who was president for 12 years.
Turnout was some 85 percent, the highest since 1981.
France's state-owned rail operator reported widespread sabotage on the country's high-speed TGV rail network as talks opened Wednesday aimed at ending a crippling eight-day transport strike.
As the national stoppage dragged into its eighth day, unions, management and government representatives sat down to thrash out a deal over President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposals for overhauling pensions.
But just hours before the talks began, state-owned rail operator SNCF revealed what it described as a "concerted campaign of sabotage" on the TGV network aimed at stopping services resuming.
In a statement, SNCF listed several acts of arson, including a "very large" blaze on the Atlantic branch that damaged a large section of the signal network.
The statement did not specify who might have been responsible for the attacks.
Union leaders were quick to condemn the incidents, with Didier Le Reste of the General Labour Confederation (CGT) denouncing what he called "indescribable acts of cowardice".
On Tuesday a defiant Sarkozy vowed to stand by his economic reforms and urged strikers to return to work.
"We will not yield and we will not retreat," the president said.
"Let there be no doubt. What needs to be done will be done. What needs to be accomplished will be accomplished. The French elected me to do it, and I will not betray them."
It was the president's first public address since the start of the railway workers' action.
On Tuesday, the transport workers were joined by hundreds of thousands of striking teachers, nurses, tax officials and other state employees demanding pay rises and an end to job cuts.
Mass rallies against the government were held in cities nationwide, with 30,000 marching with banners across central Paris. Francois Chereque, the leader of a union that favours a compromise, had to leave the Paris demonstration in haste after being booed.
SNCF predicted a slightly improved service on Wednesday -- with around 400 out of 700 TGV fast trains running -- while the RATP Paris metro operator expected about one train in four.
The number of strikers has been in steady decline since the dispute over pensions reform began, and on Tuesday stood at 27 percent at SNCF and 18 percent at RATP.
Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said he was hopeful the talks would herald the end of the strike. "I think the conditions are there for everyone to get out of it honorably," he said.
Le Reste said the negotiations would be the start of a month-long process.
"Some strike meetings around the country have voted to suspend the action, others to keep it going to maintain pressure on the negotiations. Our decision rests with them," he said.
Sarkozy argued that the start of negotiations should also mark the end of the strike.
"Everyone must ask whether it is right to continue a strike which has already cost users -- and strikers -- so dear," he said.
"I think of those millions of French people who after a day of work have no bus, metro or train to take them home and who are tired of being used as hostages."
Ministers have said they will not yield on the core of the reform which is to increase contribution periods for the 500,000 beneficiaries of "special" pensions systems so that they are in line with the rest of the population. Currently they retire two and a half years earlier.
The government has suggested salary rises and top-up pension schemes could sweeten the pill, and SNCF management has said a 90 million euro a year financial package is available if the strikers return to work.
The rail strike is costing up to 400 million euros (590 million dollars) a day, the government says.
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"It is indeed in these walls which house your chambers that modern political life was born.
"Without your Parliament, parliamentary democracy would never have existed in this shape anywhere in the world."Britain had shown that parliamentary democracy was "the best bulwark against tyranny",
The two leaders are now at Arsenal's football stadium for talks on issues including nuclear power, Afghanistan and global finance.
They will agree joint measures against illegal immigration - but Mr Sarkozy wants an EU-wide policy.
Ms Bruni is attending a charity lunch with Mrs Brown during the summit.
The two women will dine with other wives of senior politicians at Lancaster House, in aid of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood.
Mr Sarkozy and Mr Brown, meanwhile, are meeting Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger at the Emirates Stadium in North London. They were due to be greeted by members of Arsenal's youth team who will greet the French President in his native tongue.
Mr Sarkozy will use a translator in his talks with Mr Brown, who does not speak French.
It is the first state visit by French President for 12 years - but many of the headlines in British newspapers have been grabbed by Ms Bruni.
| Two democracies, two lands of
freedom, two lands of justice, two lands of solidarity
Nicolas Sarkozy on Anglo-French relations
The supermodel-turned-singer was the centre of attention at a state banquet at Windsor Castle on Wednesday evening, where she chatted with members of the Royal Family.
The president and his wife said farewell to their Royal hosts at Windsor Castle earlier.
Before arriving in Downing Street, Mr Sarkozy and Ms Bruni laid a wreath and observed a minute's silence by a statue of General Charles de Gaulle in Carlton Gardens, off Pall Mall, in central London.
Crowds lined the barriers to catch a glimpse of Ms Bruni, who was wearing a bright purple coat, over a grey trouser suit, and flat black pumps.
She was followed by her husband who was wearing a black suit and coat and heeled black shoes.
The couple viewed a plaque paying tribute to General de Gaulle's appeal to the French people to fight against the Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
In their bilateral talks, Mr Brown and Mr Sarkozy will discuss further measures to tackle illegal immigration including enhanced borders guards at Calais and joint asylum expulsion flights.
They are also expected to speak about measures to tackle global financial instability and announce new co-operation on nuclear energy.
During an impassioned speech in the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, Mr Sarkozy hailed the historic friendship between Britain and France.
Looking to the future, he said that instead of the famed "Entente Cordiale", there should be an "Entente Amicale", with France and the UK working together on energy, immigration, security and defence.
He also said more "British dynamism" was needed to reform the European Union, hinting that France might be open to changing the Common Agricultural Policy.
He hailed the "exemplary" bilateral efforts to tackle illegal immigration but repeated his call for a common EU immigration "pact" - likely to be a key theme of France's EU Presidency in July.
Mr Sarkozy also proposed increasing his country's commitment in Afghanistan at a Nato summit in Bucharest next week.
PARIS: French officials said Monday that they would use the presidency of the European Union to try to win over discontented voters in Europe by getting "back to basics," like cushioning the impact of soaring food and fuel bills and protecting voters from globalization.
On the eve of the start of its six-month presidency, the officials made it clear that they would seek to reverse the recent no vote by Ireland in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty to reorganize the EU and would press the Czech Republic to ratify the treaty.
"The European idea is in danger if we don't protect Europeans," President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday as he promised to oppose the European Commission's position in global trade talks. Speaking on French television, Sarkozy attacked proposals in the trade negotiations that he said would reduce European farm production by one-fifth and cut agricultural exports by 10 percent.
Sarkozy also highlighted the problems caused for exporters by the high euro exchange rate with the dollar and said the European Central Bank should take account of economic growth, as well as its obligation to control inflation.
And in a surprisingly frank admission, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the no vote in Ireland illustrated how the EU had alienated its citizens by conducting politics in a manner they find incomprehensible.
"They understand nothing," Kouchner said. "The institutions interest no one." He argued that, in contrast, voters did appreciate that Europe "was not able to respond to the rise in the price of petrol."
As for the jargon in which business in Brussels is conducted, "no one understands - including me," said Kouchner, adding that it was time to "get back to basics."
The comments Monday to journalists in Paris illustrate how the government there has interpreted the Irish vote as a vindication of efforts it was already promoting to protect Europeans from the impact of globalization.
That effort threatens to crystallize the debate within the EU between France on the one hand and more economically liberal nations like Britain.
France opposes moves, promoted by Britain, to scale back the Common Agricultural Policy, which consumes more than 40 percent of the EU's budget, and Paris plans a review or "health check" of farm spending before the end of the year.
President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear last month his discontent with the way that the EU's trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has conducted the Doha Development Round of global trade talks.
Trade ministers are to meet later this month in Geneva, and one senior French official said Monday that Europe had made sacrifices in agricultural policy but had received nothing in return in market access for industrial goods or services.
Kouchner put forward no concrete plans to simplify the way the EU works, but he suggested that French proposals to reduce the value-added tax on fuel could appeal to voters who "see Europe more as a threat than a protection."
Though the European Commission has promised to study the French ideas, along with others including an Italian proposal for a new tax on oil companies, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is opposed and Britain is skeptical.
In Paris, there is no effort to conceal the fact that preparations for the presidency have been derailed by the Ireland vote. The Lisbon Treaty aims to give the EU a more powerful voice on the global stage, creating a full-time president of the council and a more powerful foreign policy chief. France was to preside over the filling of these posts and the setting up of a new European diplomatic service, but this process has been delayed.
Prime Minister François Fillon of France said he would concentrate on energy issues, climate change, immigration, farm policy and expanding the EU's defense capabilities.
One other senior French official summed up the priorities in English as the "triple F: finance, fuel and food," referring also to measures to stabilize financial markets.
France also hopes to increase European defense capabilities and create a new European military planning structure. Britain, the EU's other main defense power, backs plans to increase capabilities but opposes the establishment of a military headquarters which, it argues, would duplicate NATO's role.
Though Britain has gone ahead with the ratification process for the Lisbon Treaty, the Czech Republic has stopped its drive for parliamentary approval. But the Czechs, who will take over the rotating EU presidency in January 2009, will face problems when they head the bloc's meetings if they do not proceed with Lisbon, said the senior French official.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland is to report to colleagues in October on progress, but French officials appear to accept that he may not be able to make a clear proposal by then, though they believe a solution allowing the Irish to ratify will be found.
Clara O'Donnell, research fellow at the Center for European Reform in London, said that, while the Irish vote would overshadow the French presidency to some extent, other areas of work would not be affected.
"Already before the no vote there was a perception that the EU is too pre-occupied with its institutional setup," O'Donnell said. "This has been strengthened, so the French will be keen to push through as many things as possible to show that the EU is relevant."
O'Donnell added that while the French presidency was unlikely to adopt a protectionist and populist tone, there was a greater medium term danger for the EU.
"I think it is unlikely that the next European Commission will be as economically liberal as this one," she said, referring to the next mandate, which is to begin in 2009.
PARIS: When Nicolas Sarkozy brings France back into NATO's unified command next year, he will want to celebrate it as a triumph for Europe's own defense identity.
It's a very French spin on a step that more meaningfully signifies that the alliance, so often buried, is alive and kicking, and that Sarkozy, 42 years after Charles de Gaulle's decision to pull out of NATO's integrated military structure, thinks there's no more profit in France being seen as a reflex antagonist of the United States on issues like Iran, the Middle East, Russia and China.
The world ought to notice. Even if Sarkozy, out of domestic political considerations, must write his own Franco-French account of his country's new wisdom.
On France's motivation, Sarkozy states a plain truth: "Our position, outside the military command, sustains mistrust about the object of our European ambition." To that, he adds a very French judgment: "A France taking its full place in NATO would be an alliance that would be giving a greater place to Europe."
In fact, more than anyone might have thought a few months ago, there are contradictions and problems appearing now that, without fundamentally endangering France's reintegration, could turn the process into a slog.
France is going to be very hard-pressed to explain what that European defense identity - which Sarkozy so much wanted to emphasize as the condition for his embrace of NATO - is or can become while the French hold the European Union's agenda-setting presidency for the next six months.
New facts can only make it increasingly difficult in practical terms to demonstrate growth in European capabilities, expenditure and resolve.
Specifically, Irish voters' rejection of the Lisbon Treaty on EU reorganization disables a measure called "structured permanent cooperation" that would have allowed groups of countries among the 27 members to make advances in terms of their military capacities.
The effect is to remove a vehicle for new hard-power commitments within a Europe long bent on convincing itself soft power was all it needed, and where only two countries (Britain and Turkey) will actually increase their military budgets next year.
This difficulty puts France in a doubly awkward position.
On the one hand, while the United States says it sees eye to eye with the French on developing European defense, the new circumstances can't facilitate the Americans' openly stated expectation "that France will lead an effort" during its presidency to prod Europe into greater investment in greater capabilities.
Instead, some Americans now say they don't have a sense of what a refashioned European Defense and Security Policy could produce in real terms.
At the same time, since France cannot point to a Europe committed by treaty to expanded European military capacities, Sarkozy is likely to have a harder time at home fending off his critics from the left and the anti-American Gaullist right wing who cast the return to NATO not as a plus for Europe but as an exchange of French independence for American domination.
According to Pierre Lellouche, a Gaullist who was involved in writing Sarkozy's campaign platform on defense, "It's indispensable that Sarkozy present the return in parallel with the development of a European defense identity. Without it, there's a potential domestic cold shower here."
The signals coming from Paris have become garbled in every direction.
Although Europe has talked about generalized 2 percent increases in yearly military expenditures, it appears French spending will be below that target.
While the French talk about the necessity of updating Europe's security strategy to deal with new threats around the world, Sarkozy has in fact put off a decision on building a second French aircraft carrier. It was described by Le Monde as "a very political way of softly laying the project in its grave."
France could not have chosen a worse juncture. The old naval truism that one aircraft carrier is no aircraft carrier at all pertains: in the six years since its launch, the nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle, according to one accounting, has been in activity less than half the time.
With this, France insists it won't participate in NATO's Nuclear Planning Group or have any of its troops under NATO command in time of peace. In Sarkozy's words, "making de Gaulle's principles my own," French atomic arms "will remain strictly national."
As far as European capabilities go, France is talking about the creation of a deployable European force of 60,000, a 10-year-old plan that has never come close to realization.
And more: for home consumption, France plays down into a no-big-deal attitude any sense of a qualitative change in its cooperation with NATO by stressing its current participation in NATO-led actions in the Balkans and Afghanistan. But it argues simultaneously and contradictorily that there should be a separate European headquarters command in Brussels.
Unfortunately, the separate command notion sounds a lot like an attempt by Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder in 2003 to set up an exclusively European planning installation in NATO's margins. Thérèse Delpech, one of the authors of a new French defense white paper, insists this is a misinterpretation of a French desire for a gradual increase in a European planning staff, but for the British the issue remains in play.
The sum of these complications are of sufficient size that one Brussels estimate figures that work on arrangements involving a French return will continue beyond a NATO summit meeting scheduled for April 2009 and into 2010.
Still, nothing presupposes issues that would block France's reintegration. The problem is that the French are experiencing some inconsistency in fitting themselves into the NATO mold.
At this point, the exercise - from France's point of view, a demonstration of team-playing instincts firm enough to justify a claim to European leadership - would profit from more NATO and fewer French concerns.
BRUSSELS: The European Union presidency, which France takes on for six months starting Tuesday, poses a big challenge to "Sarkonomics."
Will President Nicolas Sarkozy try to stamp his brand of state economic oversight, trade protection and promotion of European industrial champions on the 27-nation bloc?
Or will the responsibility of EU leadership help him embrace a free trade agreement, open up France's rigid economy and cut its budget deficit?
Paris has not placed economics in its top four priorities. The priorities right now are: EU agreement on climate change and energy policy, a charter on migration, closer European military cooperation and a modest update of the common agricultural policy.
But rising inflation, sagging consumer confidence, a strong euro and a deteriorating business outlook seem certain to thrust the economy onto the agenda.
Three important issues will put Sarkozy's economic principles to the test: a possible world trade agreement, the response to rising oil and food prices, and the relationship between EU governments and the European Central Bank.
The stalled negotiations at the World Trade Organization come to a crunch in late July, when trade ministers meet in Geneva for what looks like the last chance to forge a deal before the end of the presidency of George W. Bush of the United States.
An agreement could give the world economy a much needed injection of confidence. An acrimonious failure could push it further over the cliff.
The European Commission negotiates on behalf of EU member states in the WTO, but France has tried to handcuff the trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, to deter him from making any more concessions in agriculture, seen as a vital French interest.
Sarkozy has said Mandelson is partially to blame for the Irish vote on June 12 against a treaty to overhaul the EU, and Sarkozy lambasted Mandelson's handling of the trade talks.
Paris has called a special meeting of EU foreign ministers for the week before the WTO ministerial session opens July 21.
EU trade officials, whose positions bar them from speaking publicly, say they expect the French to be breathing down Mandelson's neck in Geneva. But they say the commissioner still gets to conduct negotiations and can ultimately reach a deal and challenge EU ministers to "take it or leave it."
That would give Sarkozy the choice between rallying European support for an accord that French and Irish farmers might brand a betrayal or lying down in front of the juggernaut of a global trade agreement at the risk of splitting the EU.
Diplomats say the French have been quietly hoping that intransigence by emerging economies like Brazil and India on industrial goods and services, or farm interests in the United States, would prevent the talks from getting that far.
France and the European Commission were asked by EU leaders to propose measures in October to cushion the effect of the rise in oil and food prices on the poorest parts of the population. But most EU partners, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, opposed Sarkozy's idea of capping value-added taxes on fuel and using extra fuel tax revenue to help suffering sectors like fishing, farmers and trucking.
The challenge for Sarkozy will be to stick to proposals that can win a consensus in the EU, like tax breaks on energy-saving appliances or fuel allowances for retirees, rather than to focus on issues like subsidy programs to buy off protesting interest groups.
On economic governance, France has already abandoned its most divisive idea - a first summit meeting of leaders of the 15 nations that share the euro single currency.
Germany and the Netherlands led the resistance, fearing an attempt to pressure the European Central Bank to cut interest rates and lower the euro's exchange rate against the dollar.
"That would be the best way to blow up the French presidency, by starting a hopeless political debate. It would be pointless," a senior representative in Sarkozy's office said on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak to the media.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
The former French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was the leading figure in a “cabal” which tried to smear Nicolas Sarkozy in 2004 to destroy his chances of becoming president, a French investigative judge has been told.
The accusation, by another key player in the alleged conspiracy, threatens to complicate, and possibly even derail, France’s “trial of the century” which is due to begin in Paris two weeks tomorrow.
Mr de Villepin, prime minister from 2005-7, is due to stand trial, alongside four other people, accused of “complicity” in calumny and forgery in the tangled and murky Clearstream Affair. It emerged at the weekend, however, that an investigative judge had been given sworn testimony accusing Mr de Villepin of being not just “complicit” but the leading figure in a clumsy attempt to destroy M. Sarkozy as a “danger to France”.
Mr de Villepin’s lawyer, Olivier Metzner, dismissed these allegations yesterday but also complained that the statement, made nine months ago, had been wrongly withheld from defence lawyers. He suggested that he now had grounds to delay, or even prevent, the trial.
The “Clearstream Affair” already reads like the plot of a political thriller. There is no precedent in French history for an ex-Prime Minister going on trial accused of trying to wreck the career of a political colleague and rival.
The affair concerns not so much sex, lies and videotape as political ambition, lies and CD-roms. In May 2004, an investigating judge received an anonymous letter and then a CD-rom containing lists of allegedly undeclared bank accounts managed by the Clearstream International Bank in Luxembourg. Among the thinly disguised references to senior French business and political figures were the names “Nagy” and “Bocsa”, which form part of Mr Sarkozy’s full surname.
A brief investigation by the judge revealed that the lists had been faked. Real bank records, previously leaked to an investigative journalist, had been altered, introducing new names.
At the time of the alleged smear, Mr Sarkozy had already emerged as the likely next leader of the French centre right. His ambitions were resented by his former mentor, President Jacques Chirac, who still hoped to run for a third term. Mr de Villepin, who detested Mr Sarkozy and referred to him privately as “the dwarf”, also harboured presidential ambitions of his own.
According to the former Prime Minister’s version of events, he was first shown the CD-ROM by a friend and former colleague, Jean-Louis Gergorin, then a senior official in the Airbus company, EADS. Mr de Villepin says that he asked for an investigation by the security services but made no attempt to single out or smear M. Sarkozy. .
Mr Gergorin, who is also due to go on trail on 21 September, says that he accepted the CD-ROM , in good faith, from another Airbus official, Imad Lahoud, a computer expert and mathematician.
Mr Lahoud, who is also to go on trial, has made a series of confusing declarations about the affair. It emerged at the weekend that he had made another, previously undisclosed, statement on oath nine months ago to a judge who was investigating a different aspect of the Clearstream scandal.
In this statement, leaked to the Journal du Dimanche yesrterday, Mr Lahoud said that he had faked the CD-Rom to include, amongst other things, the reference to Mr Sarkozy. He said that he had done so, at the request of Mr Gergorin, who was part of a “cabal” who regarded M. Sarkozy as a man who was “dangerous for France and must, at all costs, be stopped”.
“I knew that Jean-Louis Gergorin was in contact with Dominique de Villepin and the cabal against Nicolas Sarkozy had been created with Dominique de Villepin’s knowledge,” he said.
The judges investigating the affair have found no evidence that Mr de Villepin inspired the faked CD.. They concluded, however, that the former Prime Minister had been “complicit” in trying to use them against Mr Sarkozy after he knew that they were false. Mr Lahoud’s statement suggests that Mr de Villepin was involved from the very beginning.
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has urged the UK to change the rules governing bank bonuses.
She told BBC's Newsnight programme that nobody wanted a recurrence of the crisis that occurred 12 months ago.
UK Chancellor Alistair Darling has said the French plan, for mandatory caps on bonuses, is "unworkable".
Banker compensation will be high on the agenda of finance ministers from the Group of 20 richest nations (G20), who are meeting in London.
"What happened 12 months ago was just horrible for our societies, it was horrible for our economies, and we are still suffering as a result," Mrs Lagarde said.
"Nobody wants this thing to happen again and if we want to avoid a recurrence of the crisis, we need to change the rules."
France is proposing a series of mandatory caps on bonuses - which the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, said he "totally supported".
Mr Darling told the BBC that the UK favoured measures designed to make sure banks had higher capital reserves and were geared more to long-term growth.
But the UK and US have so far been reluctant to go as far as France is putting a limit on bankers' pay.
"Frankly I would be surprised that the excellent common law system of the UK does not find ways to make the collective determination enforceable," Mrs Lagarde said.
"Everybody knows that the compensation of someone is a driver for that person's behaviour so we need to look at compensation."
A meeting of the heads of the G20 governments will take place in Pittsburgh later this month.
On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a joint letter with the heads of the French and German governments that they must explore ways to "limit" bonuses.
"We should explore ways to limit total variable remuneration in a bank either to a certain proportion of total compensation or the bank's revenues and/or profits," they said.
"The abatement of financial tensions has led some financial institutions to imagine they can return to the same modes of action prevalent before the crisis. This is not an option," the letter added.
That appeared to contrast with previous comments from Mr Brown that he did not favour capping bonuses.
His comments suggested that he preferred finding mechanisms where banks could "claw back" bonuses if the bank later performed poorly.
Mr Darling, in an interview with the BBC's economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, denied that the letter was a U-turn by the UK.
He said that the prime minister was merely showing the UK was prepared to work with other countries.
And he said he thought the US, where there has also been a backlash over bonuses, would take the same view as the UK government.
If you cap bankers' bonuses, banks will either "jack up" their basic salary or go elsewhere, he said.
"For this to work, you have to get global agreement because all these banks are multinational," he said.
"Inevitably, different countries will present different solutions," Mr Darling said.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne said that Labour's "confusion" about its economic policy was threatening the economy.
"Yesterday Gordon Brown signed a letter promising to explore bonus caps, and today Alistair Darling says those caps are unworkable," he said.
"It's further evidence of the growing tension between Number 10 and Number 11 that could do so much damage to our economic recovery."
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The new head of the armed forces has said it makes "absolute sense" for Britain and France to work together on defence, ahead of a summit.
PM David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are expected to sign a defence treaty on Tuesday.
The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been charged by New York police over an alleged sex attack on a hotel maid.
Mr Strauss-Kahn, 62, was taken off an Air France plane at JFK airport just minutes before it left for Paris.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13402845