Merkozy is leaking water

Article published on Oct. 17, 2007
Article published on Oct. 17, 2007
A conflict of interest is poisoning the apparent honeymoon between the French and German leaders, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, as they work on the EU constitution

Be­fore Nico­las Sarkozy’s elec­tion to the French pres­i­dency on 6 May 2007, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel made a pre­dic­tion to French daily Le Monde, for a con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­date and mem­bers of the same po­lit­i­cal fam­ily that she 'knew well'. As every­one knows, fam­i­lies have their prob­lems. Few an­a­lysts are ca­pa­ble of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the fa­mous 'French-Ger­man motor' of the Eu­ro­pean Union. 'Merkozy' is noth­ing more than po­lit­i­cal fic­tion.

Un­der­stand­ing diplo­macy: pure the­ory

'Merkel’s post is eas­ier at an in­ter­na­tional level,' claims Ger­man pub­lic tele­vi­sion chan­nel Deutsche Welle, es­pe­cially with Sarkozy as the newest right-wing French pres­i­dent. The Ger­man media con­sider that Sarkozy, who is closely aligned with Wash­ing­ton and wants to re­main dis­tant from Turkey’s as­pi­ra­tions to join the EU, will help unite France and Ger­many in their diplo­matic causes.

It later be­came ev­i­dent that Sarkozy and Merkel can­not agree fully even on this area. The Ger­man Chan­cel­lor, leader of a coali­tion gov­ern­ment made up of chris­t­ian de­moc­rats and so­cial de­moc­rats, has be­come more closely aligned with the USA, but not to the same ex­tent or with as much pas­sion as Sarkozy has demon­strated. It is thought that Ger­many per­haps feels pres­sured by the re­spon­si­bil­ity of hav­ing just ended their time as EU pres­i­dents, and so has to main­tain a softer po­si­tion on Turkey than France.

Show me the greens

The most vis­i­ble clash be­tween Sarkozy and Merkel has been the ques­tion of money. The French de­ci­sion to post­pone re­duc­ing the pub­lic deficit to the lev­els laid down by Brus­sels by sev­eral years has an­noyed the Ger­man gov­ern­ment. Peer Steinsbrück, eco­nom­ics min­is­ter and so­cial de­mo­c­rat, told Sarkozy in a July EU re­union that the biggest coun­tries 'have to lead by ex­am­ple,' ac­cord­ing to re­ports in the Span­ish news­pa­per El País among oth­ers. It ap­pears though that the French leader did not ap­pre­ci­ate such frank­ness. 'That is not how one speaks to a Pres­i­dent!' he blurted out to Steinsbrück, in­form­ing him that his ob­ser­va­tion could bring con­se­quences.

Even within the eco­nom­ics field, there have been two areas in which France and Ger­many have clashed. First, Sarkozy in­sisted that the Eu­ro­pean Cen­tral Bank should not in­crease in­ter­est rates - a de­ci­sion which could fur­ther hurt the flail­ing French econ­omy. Berlin con­sider this move in­ter­ven­tion­ist and ad­vise against it. The sec­ond cause of fric­tion is the Eu­ro­pean Aero­nau­tic De­fence Space Com­pany (EADS). The pres­i­dent and chan­cel­lor have had their ups and downs in ne­go­ti­at­ing the dis­tri­b­u­tion of power in Air­bus, the Eu­ro­pean Avi­a­tion Build­ing in­dus­try and they have been de­bat­ing on their own com­mer­cial and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

Two op­pos­ing styles

It ap­pears as though Merkel is the pro­tag­o­nist in this tale. Sarkozy also ap­pears to be a main char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially in in­ter­na­tional fo­rums, but de­spite their charisma and love of the cam­eras, nei­ther of them is ca­pa­ble of ig­nor­ing the cracks that are form­ing. An ex­am­ple of this was seen on 10 Sep­tem­ber dur­ing a meet­ing with the two lead­ers in the Mesen­burg Palace near Berlin. As on other oc­ca­sions, Sarkozy did not hes­i­tate in get­ting close to Merkel and kiss­ing her, some­thing which is not con­sid­ered nor­mal in for­mal Ger­man sit­u­a­tions. It is not that the chan­cel­lor shies away from her col­league but this cul­tural dif­fer­ence, or per­haps even po­lit­i­cal, demon­strates that she is not as com­fort­able as the French leader in these sit­u­a­tions. Per­haps she pre­ferred the at­ten­tive kisses she used to re­ceive from Chirac. In any case, the Merkel-Sarkozy meet­ings are a de­light for psy­chol­o­gists in­ter­ested in in­ter­pret­ing human ex­pres­sion.

In­deli­ble chinks in the story

At times it can seem as though Sarkozy is a re­fresh­ing and in­deed nec­es­sary change in pol­i­tics; how­ever, the fol­low­ing is an ex­am­ple of some­thing he got very wrong. At a Feb­ru­ary 2007 rally in the south­ern city of Nice, Sarkozy said France 'has not car­ried out a geno­cide' with ref­er­ence to the Holo­caust. It is un­der­stood that this phrase was not in­ter­preted as a friendly ges­ture from ei­ther side of the bor­der. Elis­a­beth Guigou, for­mer French So­cial­ist min­is­ter, ac­cused Sarkozy of 'ne­glect­ing the French-Ger­man rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that both heads of state had made dur­ing the mid­dle ages.'

Ger­many has not elim­i­nated all the old feel­ings of sus­pi­cion and re­sent­ment ei­ther. There was an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing ex-chan­cel­lor Kon­rad Ade­nauer, made pub­lic by the media, who once said 'in order to speak to France, you must first salute the French flag at least three times.'

In-text photo: Fed up with Sarkozy? (Débats-Sarkozy.​fr/​ Flickr)