BERLIN, Germany — President Nicolas Sarkozy is not yet officially a candidate in the forthcoming French presidential election, but that hasn’t stopped German Chancellor Angela Merkel from backing him. After all what would become of ‘Merkozy’ and, more importantly, her crisis-driven vision for reshaping Europe, without her side-kick in Paris?
On Monday night, Merkel defended her position in the French election during a joint TV interview with Sarkozy, arguing that the two belonged to the same party family. Indeed both Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), belong to the center-right European People’s Party (EPP).
Merkel, who was in Paris for the joint Franco-German cabinet meeting, said during the interview that she would support the current occupant of the Elysee Palace “whatever he does.”
Yet her blatant favoring of Sarkozy in the contest scheduled for April 22 has raised some hackles back home.
Green parliamentary floor leader Juergen Trittin was particularly scathing. “A German government leader who campaigns for a president who has his back against the wall damages the Franco-German relationship,” he told the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper.
“It cannot be that a meeting of governments is used by conservative politicians for the purposes of election campaigning,” he said. He also criticized Merkel refusal, so far, to meet with Sarkozy’s leading opponent, Francois Hollande; that, he contends, hurts the neutrality required of a chancellor.
“The Franco-German axis should also be able to function if, from May, Sarkozy is no longer in the Elysee Palace.”
Meanwhile, Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) said that he thought Merkel and Sarkozy’s interview was “rather embarrassing.” Writing on Facebook he said the two leaders had no answer to Europe’s urgent problems, and he doubted if Merkel’s backing would help Sarkozy much.
SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles said that Merkel should spend less time campaigning for Sarkozy and instead go to Greece to deal with another fellow conservative, Andonis Samaras, whose New Democracy party is one of those blocking a cross-party agreement on austerity measures.
Hannelore Kraft, the SPD premier of North Rhine Westphalia, said that the SPD would in any case be backing Sarkozy’s likely rival for the post, the center-left Socialist Party’s Hollande. In the “family of European social democracy this has always been a matter of course,” she told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Yet a Hollande victory could also pose problems for the SPD. He has positioned himself to the left of the German Social Democrats on many issues. And in particular when it comes to the euro crisis, his policies may not chime with those of his German comrades.
After all, the SPD leadership has largely backed Merkel’s handling of the euro crisis. Yet Hollande has already promised that he would block the fiscal pact agreed by 25 of the 27 EU member states on Jan. 30. Sarkozy is delaying its ratification until after the French election.
Meanwhile Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the French-German Green politician, has said he doesn’t expect Merkel’s interjection into the French presidential campaign to be to Sarkozy’s benefit. “Why should French people, who are fed up with Sarkozy, suddenly vote for him because Angie appears on the TV?” he said to Spiegel Online.
Merkel, he argued, “is securing Sarkozy’s solidarity so that she can push through her tough policy in the euro crisis. But it is anything but clever. If Hollande wins the election — and it looks likely at the moment — then she will have to do another u-turn and grin and bear it.”
Meanwhile Hollande has said that it Merkel will have a tough time trying to convince the French that Sarkozy is worthy of their vote. Speaking at a campaign event in Dijon on Tuesday, he said: “The fact that Nicolas Sarkozy needs Madame Merkel says a lot about his situation."
"For me, my only criteria are the French people. That's who I'm turning to for the presidential election. I don't need anyone else other than the vote of the French," he said.