Across the Channel, the French may no longer be able to rival British wine and cheese but when it comes to transport and the environment they remain à la tête du peloton (okay, okay, and leaving aside the green-fingered do-gooders of Scandinavia and northern Europe).
Their publicly owned railways function better and faster and are cheaper to the consumer. In terms of railway density, France has 497 metres of track per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to the UK's 276m. The French conduct nearly a third of journeys on foot, compared to people in England & Wales, who only walk one-eighth of the time and drive a car two times out of three (this in a less dispersed, more densely populated, country). Apparently our trains do offer better Wi-Fi (if you coughed, don't worry, that's a perfectly natural reaction).
Now Gallic green-thinkers are taking steps to outlaw the most polluting cars from town centres. Reported in Le Monde, half a dozen municipal authorities, including Paris, Lyon and Clermont, will from 2012 refuse access to certain 4x4's and old diesel vehicles as they set up "les zones d'action prioritaires pour l'air" (ZAPA). According to France's environment minister, more than 160 towns across Europe have already put in place similar experiments.
The trial typifies the gulf in environmental governance between the UK and the rest of Europe. The more dirigeiste mentality on the Continent, particularly in France, just goes and does things. For instance: need a nice, straight, high-speed railway line between Paris and Marseilles, Monsieur President? Straightforward.
The present Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has not just a mere modicum of John Bull about him and wouldn't dream of implementing any such 4x4 ban in parts of our capital, regardless of the health and environmental benefits it could bring.