Merkel to support Sarkozy 'no matter what'

06.02.12 @ 17:36

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised unfettered political support for her French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy if he runs in the April presidential elections, remarks likely to further increase the spotlight on the continent's foremost political duo.

The two leaders, whose relationship has inspired almost as much interest as the eurozone crisis that feeds it, met in Paris on Monday (6 February) for one of their frequent bilateral summits to underline the strength of Franco-German ties even as the single currency's woes deepen.

Speaking after their meeting, Merkel, who hails from the same centre-right political family as Sarkozy, said she would support the putative candidate "in anyway I can ... no matter what he does."

Her comment, which she immediately qualified by limiting to his actions as a presidential candidate, follow earlier commitments that she would make campaign appearances alongside Sarkozy.

For his part, Sarkozy, who is trailing behind Socialist contender Francois Hollande in the polls, has tied his political colours to Berlin's mast.

Political risk

His fulsome praise for "Madame Merkel" and how "well" she is running Germany comes on top of his outright support for the fiscal discipline treaty, a document agreed by an EU summit last week enshrining Berlin's belt-tightening economic doctrine into national law.

"This is work of historic importance. Europe has never made such rapid structural decisions," he said.

The treaty has been critcised in other quarters - including by Hollande - as being irrelevant to the problems at hand and likely to make worse the eurozone's stagnant economic growth.

The relations between the two leaders - dubbed Merkozy - has evolved with the two-year long eurozone crisis. What started off ostensibly as a politically balanced set-up has altered to become a relationship dominated by the economically-stronger Germany.

But the idea of a Franco-German engine running Europe helps both leaders. Sarkozy is lent more gravitas on the domestic front while the perception that Merkel is directing Europe is blunted if Paris is on board.

Political commentators suggest that for the moment Merkel is popular in France but this could change, with French newspapers beginning to paint the Chancellor in an unflattering light.

"Germany has become too much of an issue in the French presidential elections," Frank Baasner, head of the Franco-German Institute, told Germany's ZDF.

Noting that she has always had a "good image" in France, Baasner added: "It has to be seen with a question mark whether one can win an election in France standing alongside Merkel."

Merkel, for her part, appeared to downplay her campaigning offer by pointing out that there are precedents for leaders from both countries helping one another out.

France leads on foreign policy

While Germany, with the eurozone's deepest pockets, is the undisputed leader when it comes to questions of economy, it continues to be France that takes the lead on major foreign policy issues.

Sarkozy noted that he would be talking to Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev about Syria "on behalf of both of us [France and Germany]" on Monday, with France over the weekend calling for an EU-Arab action group on Syria whose government has been conducting a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

This division of power between Paris and Berlin was alluded to recently by Alain Minc, an advisor and friend to Sarkozy.

"There are two negotiating tables in Europe: The first one is for economic issues, while military, strategic and diplomatic questions are discussed at the second one. Germany is the senior partner at the first table, but it doesn't even want to be present at the second one, as [the case of] Libya has shown. I think that results in a balanced relationship," he told Der Spiegel magasine.

He also had some pointed to the change in the nature of the relationship between the calm scientist Merkel and hyperactive lawyer Sarkozy.

"I think he has learned to like her. At the beginning, you couldn't have imagined two more disparate people.

"He's learning to control himself. I think both of them have come a long way: from necessity to complicity, and from there to, as Nicolas Sarkozy tells me, real affection. You know, there are only three women in Sarkozy's life: Carla Bruni, his daughter and Angela Merkel."