21st Sep 2020

Sarkozy 'annoyed' by Merkel

The fabled Franco-German motor has been dusted off since France's energetic new leader Nicolas Sarkozy burst onto the European stage before the summer, but by some accounts all is not quite so rosy behind the scenes.

Speculation on the state of relations between the frenetic limelight-stealing can-do Mr Sarkozy and his low-key but steely German counterpart Angela Merkel has been high since the French president took office four months ago.

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  • Is she getting on his nerves? (Photo: © Council of the European Union, 2000-2005)

Even before he became president there were reports on the lack of chemistry between them and that the German chancellor was irritated by Mr Sarkozy's frequent broadsides against the European Central Bank.

Now a regional German paper has got tongues wagging by publishing an article earlier this week claiming that Mr Sarkozy views Franco-German relations as "hollow" and that he is annoyed with both the chancellor and finance minister Peer Steinbrueck.

According to the Rheinische Post, citing people from Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, Ms Merkel is "increasingly getting on his nerves."

The spark was a ticking off that Mr Sarkozy received from Mr Steinbrueck during a meeting of EU finance ministers in July.

Mr Sarkozy attended the meeting – setting an EU precedent - in order to tell finance ministers that France was putting the brake on reducing its deficit.

Mr Steinbrueck accused Mr Sarkozy of not sticking to an EU agreement to get national budgets in order by the end this decade – criticism that did not go down well.

"That is not the way to speak to a president," Mr Sarkozy was reported as saying by the Rheinische Post.

He was then "really annoyed" with Ms Merkel for not rebuking Mr Steinbrueck, in comments that have been widely picked up by other German media.

So is it all a storm in a teacup? Partly, thinks Henrik Uterwedde, deputy director of the German-French Institute (DFI) in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

"Differences happen 1000 times in politics," says Mr Uterwedde. But he goes on to point out that the personal styles of the two are "completely different" as is the political culture in each country.

Some clouds

He notes that Mr Sarkozy runs a personality-based "one-man-show" where his own ministers have little power and where it is not rare for them to be upbraided in public by the president.

Chancellor Merkel on the other hand is more "down to earth" and "keeps herself from the limelight" and is the product of a collegial system that requires constant consultation between the governing coalition partners as well as between the federal state and the regions.

In Germany, it would "almost never" happen that a minister is told off for something that occurred behind closed doors.

Mr Uterwedde says that although relations are not in any way at crisis point, "they are not without clouds" noting that the crucial point will be whether Mr Sarkozy continues to "claim for himself the good role" in Europe.

So far, there have been several incidences where Mr Sarkozy seems to have stolen the limelight from Ms Merkel.

He managed to make the June EU summit where a new treaty outline was agreed seem largely due to his handiwork and took a go-it-alone attitude to the freeing of the Bulgarian medics in Libya last month, leading the German foreign minister to say afterwards that Paris should have kept Berlin more informed of the arms deal it arranged with Tripoli.

Mr Sarkozy also recently championed more transparency in hedge funds after the financial crisis in world markets, with German officials pointing out that Ms Merkel pushed the same idea already several months ago.

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