Merkel, Sarkozy ties frosty after summer of discontent
16 September 2006, BERLIN (AFP) - Four months after Nicolas Sarkozy became France's new president, a cool wind is blowing between Paris and Berlin as tensions appear in his pivotal relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
16 September 2006
BERLIN (AFP) - Four months after Nicolas Sarkozy became France's new president, a cool wind is blowing between Paris and Berlin as tensions appear in his pivotal relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
From a bruising European Union summit in June, through weeks of simmering discord over the independence of the European Central Bank to a patronising remark on nuclear power last Monday, Sarkozy has repeatedly offended Merkel, observers in both capitals say.
The German daily Rheinische Post spoke of a "deep crisis" between the leaders of the two countries who regard themselves as the driving force of the EU.
French right-wing newspaper Le Figaro reported that the reserved chancellor has become increasingly irritated at Sarkozy's "rough and ready" manner.
It said she resents his attempts to claim the credit for collective successes on the European front, like the hard-won accord in Brussels on a new governing treaty for the EU and Libya's release of the six condemned Bulgarian medics in July.
And German officials suggest the chancellor is uncomfortable with Sarkozy's warm but familiar way of kissing and hugging her whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac kept his distance with an old-fashioned kiss on the hand.
It is not only a question of style, however, but of substance.
Since his election in May, Sarkozy and Merkel have been tackling difficult and divisive subjects, like the overhaul of the management system at European aerospace group EADS, that were put on hold by Chirac.
Sarkozy has made strong calls for the status of the Frankfurt-based ECB to be reviewed, prompting Merkel to defend the bank's independence.
The French president signalled that the gloves came off during a bilateral meeting at a baroque castle at Meseberg outside Berlin on Monday and that the antagonism between him and Merkel is mutual at the moment.
French government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez said Sarkozy told his cabinet that his latest talks with the first German chancellor to grow up in the former communist east were "very frank" -- diplomatic speak for heated.
"He added that one has to get to know the person behind the words, that Germany had undergone a profound change and that the personality of Madame Merkel, a woman from the east with all that that entails, also marks a change," Wauquiez said.
Sarkozy is reported to have lost his temper with German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in Brussels in July when he criticised France's budget policy and to have waited in vain for Merkel to rebuke her minister.
At Meseberg, Sarkozy as always called Merkel a "friend" but raised some eyebrows by urging Germany to follow France's example of relying on nuclear power to meet a large percentage of its energy needs.
It touched a raw nerve because the country, and Merkel's left-right coalition government, is torn over the issue.
The conservative chancellor has reluctantly agreed to respect a plan adopted under her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder to close the last of Germany's 17 nuclear plants by 2020.
Observers say there has been tension in the air from the outset between Sarkozy and Merkel, who has been lauded for her low-key but deft touch on the international stage.
Sarkozy flew to Berlin hours after his inauguration on May 16 to show that, like his post-war predecessors, he values France's special relationship with Germany.
But the German media reported that the mood between him and Merkel was strained already over dinner that night.
"There is no fundamental change in the state of French-German relations," Martin Koopmann from Germany's DGAP foreign policy institute told AFP.
"Sarkozy's way of raising the nuclear energy issue ruffled feathers in Berlin, but is simply a case of each country defending its national interests and of them being more transparent about their conflicts."
A guest editorial by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon in Le Figaro on Friday called for unity, and said even friends were allowed to disagree sometimes.
"The few misunderstandings or prejudices that sometimes make themselves felt between our two countries detract nothing from the richness of our partnership," he wrote.
The newspaper offered relationship advice for the power couple.
Sarkozy, it said, should respect Merkel's lack of political room to manoeuvre at home.
And the chancellor should learn from former chancellor Konrad Adenauer who said that when dealing with the French, one must salute their flag three times before getting down to business.
Subject: German news