France uneasily eyes German election stalemate
PARIS, Sept 19 (AFP) - France looked on with trepidation Monday as closest EU partner Germany began a post-election power struggle to determine its political direction.
The outcome — to determine whether outgoing left-wing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder remains in office or is replaced by his conservative rival, Angela Merkel — could have far-reaching repercussions on France’s economy and on the Franco-German motor that has long driven EU affairs.
‘Paralysis’ was how the left-leaning daily Liberation viewed the cliffhanger vote Sunday, which gave neither party and its natural allies an absolute majority to govern despite a slight lead for Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) over Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SPD).
“It’s Europe that comes out of it even more uncertain,” the newspaper said.
It asserted that the anxiety over Germany added to France’s own current political weakness under 72-year-old conservative president Jacques Chirac, who failed in his bid in May to have an EU constitution adopted by referendum.
Another paper, Aujourd’hui en France, asked was Germany “Ungovernable?”
For the conservative Le Figaro “the result is worrying”. It added that “European politics, already derailed by France’s referendum ‘no’, risks becoming even more paralysed than ever.”
The Tribune economic daily called the German deadlock a “headache for its neighbours and partners.”
French shares, digesting the outcome, fell 0.52 percent in initial trading Monday before recovering to be 0.04 percent down at midday. The euro slumped to US $1.2146 in early London trade from 1.2235 late on Friday.
Despite the uncertainty, French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy — an ambitious politician who hopes to succeed Chirac as president in 2007 elections on a platform of radical economic reform similar to Merkel’s — congratulated the CDU leader on what he saw as a win.
“I want to give you my congratulations for this electoral victory as well as my warmest wishes for success in what is to come. I strongly hope that you are able to gather a solid coalition around you and the CDU,” he said in a message to Merkel made public.
Sarkozy, who is also leader of France’s ruling conservative UMP party, said the very slight lead given to the CDU “confirms that the ideas and values we share are right.”
One of his advisors, François Fillon, a former education minister, said France and Germany, “the two motors of the European construction, are suffering the same ills,” with voters questioning long-reigning political parties.
But others saw a contrary lesson in the German elections.
Defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, close to Chirac, said “the German voters have responded in a way that will certainly not allow the implementation of a totally (economically) liberal model.”
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the leader of the parliamentary group of the Socialist opposition, told France 2 television that Merkel’s worse-than-expected showing suggested she had “frightened” the German electorate with her calls for radical, Sarkozy-style reform.
France’s minister for European affairs, Catherine Colonna, attempted to downplay the concerns triggered by the German poll by saying that the privileged Franco-German relationship within the EU would continue regardless of who emerged victorious.
“These elections are not worrying. Elections are democracy, and the Franco-German relationship will not be affected. It’s a specific and special relationship,” Colonna told LCI television.
She conceded that Merkel’s party had proposed “radical reforms” to the electorate “and maybe some elements worried voters.”
The minister, who is also close to Chirac, refused to express a preference between Schroeder and Merkel, saying: “It’s up to the German people to set out their preferences. We will work with whatever German government.”
Subject: French news