Merkel win could invigorate Franco-German partnership

16th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 16 (AFP) - A victory for German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel in elections this weekend could provide a kickstart to the stuttering Franco-German motor that has driven the European Union for decades, analysts say.

PARIS, Sept 16 (AFP) - A victory for German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel in elections this weekend could provide a kickstart to the stuttering Franco-German motor that has driven the European Union for decades, analysts say.

Even though French President Jacques Chirac appears to have a cooler personal relationship with Merkel than with current German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, several observers believe a sudden re-evaluation of the so-called Paris-Berlin "axis" could give it new life.

"There's something mechanical today in the Franco-German relationship that needs to be given new legitimacy," said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, the head of the Robert Schuman foundation in Paris.

Both France and Germany have been weakened within the European Union over the past three years --  France through its voters' rejection of a European constitution, and both through the introduction of 10 new EU members last year and their respective economic problems.

Fundamentally, however, there is no desire to change the partnership that gave rise to today's 25-member European bloc from roots that date back to the 1951 steel and coal pact.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has said that the link cannot be altered "by any election".

And Merkel herself has said the Franco-German motor would continue if she became chancellor, through she stated it would not be an "exclusive" relationship nor one directed against other EU members.

Merkel's Christian-Democrat Union (CDU) is on track to triumph in Sunday's elections over Schroeder's Social-Democrat Party (SPD) despite a recent slip in support, according to the latest polls.

The pastor's daughter from the former communist East Germany has signalled she would maintain several foreign policy positions, including support for environmental protection and the International Criminal Court -- both issues that align with Chirac's views.

She is vehemently opposed to Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Chirac, after initially enthusiastically supporting Ankara, has become more ambivalent on the subject after the French electorate made clear its resistance to the idea.

Merkel was also likely to continue the current government's softly-softly approach on human rights in both Russia and China but stop short of echoing Schroeder's and Chirac's call to lift the EU arms embargo against Beijing.

France can also expect a Germany under Merkel to keep up its efforts, along with Britain, to curtail Iran's efforts to develop a disputed nuclear programme.

Aurore Wanlin, an analyst at the Centre for European Reform in London, said Chirac and Schroeder  "have succeeded in working closely together, but purely in the tactical defence of common interests," such as the Common Agriculture Policy, the EU budget and Iraq.

"It's a motor which is revving with nowhere to go," Wanlin said.

For Sylvie Goulard, a specialist in the Franco-German relationship and a lecturer at the College of Europe in the Belgian city of Bruges, Merkel "will challenge some of the Schroeder-Chirac missteps, and that's a good thing."

But another analyst, Guillaume Durand, of the European Policy Centre in Brussels, said the Chirac-Merkel relationship "hasn't gotten off to a good start."

Chirac's decision to see Schroeder in the eastern town of Rheinsberg at the end of the German electoral campaign period was "viewed very badly by the Merkel camp," he said, although Chirac cancelled the meeting when he was hospitalised with a vascular problem.

Merkel has also been distanced from Chirac by her position that Germany should not give preferential treatment to Russia over Poland, and that it should seek to overcome the differences over Iraq with Washington.

In the end, though, a long-awaited turnaround in the economic fortunes of the two countries may be the impetus to revive their partnership.

"The basis of the problems in the Franco-German relationship are economic in nature," said Giuliani.

"Merkel comes down more on the side of (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair than on the French side," said Wanlin. "But she is going to find herself in the same position as Gerhard Schroeder: relying on the French, for the budget or the CAP, is often easier."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article