Now Sarkozy takes on the Germans

15th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

FRANKFURT, July 14 (AFP) - French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is becoming a bit of a red rag to the bull of German politicians and industry in the treacherous arena of Franco-German relations.

FRANKFURT, July 14 (AFP) - French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is becoming a bit of a red rag to the bull of German politicians and industry in the treacherous arena of Franco-German relations.  

The feisty 49-year-old minister, who served for two years as interior minister before shifting to the finance ministry in a March government reshuffle, certainly does not appear to shy away from controversy.   

In an increasingly long list of remarks that have had politicians and industry leaders in Germany seething recently, Sarkozy fired off at engineering giant Siemens for obtaining an agreement with unions whereby employees would work longer hours without extra pay in return for a promise not to shift jobs to Hungary.  

That was "blackmail that that would not be acceptable" in France, Sarkozy said in an interview with the daily Le Monde earlier this week, as another German group, car parts maker Bosch, prepared to ask for similar sorts of sacrifices from staff at a French factory.  

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder promptly returned the volley, sniping at a car industry conference in Stuttgart on Tuesday: "I am certain that the little games being played here and there - such as discrediting German companies that try to manage working time - do not have the support of the French head of state."  

Schroeder did not name Sarkozy directly, but Siemens chief Heinrich von Pierer made no secret of the target of his anger.  

"It's incomprehensible that Mr Sarkozy criticises us for finding a compromise, when he doesn't hesitate to use taxpayers' money to save Alstom," the troubled French engineering giant, von Pierer snapped.  

It is, in fact, the French state-engineered rescue of Alstom, orchestrated by Sarkozy himself, that has been a key source of friction between Paris and Berlin in recent months.   

The German government wanted Siemens to get hold of key Alstom activities in a rescue package for the French company hammered out with the EU Commission in Brussels.  

Such a deal was seen as some sort of compensation for Berlin's tacit agreement to the takeover of Franco-German life sciences giant Aventis by French drug maker Sanofi-Synthelabo earlier this year.   

But Paris snubbed Berlin completely by securing a deal with Brussels whereby Alstom would not be broken up and only targeted assets would be sold off.   

Indeed, constant talk about the creation of "European industrial champions" has so far come to nothing, with any dates for top-level summits on the matter set back again and again.  

"One gets the impression that its about nationalism rather than about talking with each other," complained Sarkozy's German counterpart, Wolfgang Clement.   Remarks by Sarkozy that appeared to relativise the importance of the Franco-German relations have also not gone unnoticed in Berlin.   

In an interview in Les Echos, Sarkozy said that the Paris-Berlin axis was "not exclusive", urging a broader coalition that was also open to Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland.   

And another issue rubbed this week.  

The French government plans to offer tax breaks on French-made cars, thereby penalising German car makers.  

"If this leads to discrimination against the German car industry, either by means of incentives or penalties, you're not only harming the European spirit,  but creating difficulties in Franco-German cooperation," said Schroeder.



Subject: French news




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