Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy shrugged off anti-German sentiments expressed by some opposition leaders in France following efforts to bring the French stance on solving Europe’s debt crisis closer to Germany’s.
Meeting in Paris today, the two leaders dismissed comments by some members of the Socialist Party in France who've accused President Sarkozy of pandering to Germany’s “Bismarck-like policies,” and obeying its “diktat” in solving the region’s crisis. The charges led Sarkozy’s governing party to attack what it said was “irresponsible Germanophobia.”
The charges and counter-charges show how German demands for greater budget controls across Europe are sparking questions of national sovereignty. The stakes are particularly high in France, which faces presidential elections in April and May next year and which has fought two World Wars with neighboring Germany in the last century.
“The lesson of history is that we must solve our problems with words and not weapons -- and that’s exactly what drives us to seek compromise,” Chancellor Merkel said at a press conference today.
Sarkozy is blamed by opposition parties, including the far-right National Front, for bowing to Germany’s call for more discipline and more federalism to exit the crisis. Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, has called for a more “balanced relationship,” rather than one where “it’s Merkel who decides and Sarkozy who follows.”
“This spat is unfortunately a French political game,” said Gerard Grunberg, a professor at the Political Sciences Institute in Paris. “The Socialists are tackling Sarkozy on a key point for French voters: sovereignty. Socialists will do everything to weaken Sarkozy in the run-up to the elections and this crisis-exit negotiation with Merkel is a minefield.”
In a speech on Dec. 1, Sarkozy showed he had fallen in line with the German view on the crisis that has roiled markets and brought down five euro-area governments. He said the countries sharing the euro must prepare their budgets in common, narrow competitiveness gaps and face tougher automatic penalties for fiscal rule-breaking.
At the press conference today, Sarkozy said French politicians from across the political spectrum have worked on strengthening the Franco-German alliance, invoking Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.
“Madame Merkel knows that these words are not spoken by responsible people and there is no reason to be hurt,” he said. “We can’t play with the history of our countries.”
Sarkozy’s efforts to align France more closely with Germany have prompted rebuke and charges of a loss of sovereignty.
On Nov. 30, Arnaud Montebourg, a Socialist lawmaker, likened Merkel’s policy demands to a “German diktat imposed on the euro zone.” Speaking on France Info radio, he said the German chancellor was killing the euro, “building Germany’s wealth on the ruin” of its neighbor.
The politician, best-known for his book entitled “De-Globalization,” said “the question of German nationalism is emerging through the Bismarck-like policy of Merkel. She is building confrontation to impose her domination.”
Otto von Bismarck designed the German Empire in 1871, becoming its first chancellor, and is championed by the country’s nationalists.
The “Germanophobia” spat exploded late last week in France with references made to World War II, when the Germans occupied France. Lawmakers Julien Dray and Jean-Marie Le Guen were among leaders who alluded to the war to describe Sarkozy’s attitude and German policies. The Socialist Party chief at the lower house of parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who’s part of Hollande’s campaign team, criticized the lawmakers.
Visiting Berlin today, Hollande was more tempered, saying in a speech to the Social Democrats SPD party that he seeks a “balanced relationship” between the two countries, saying the Franco-German friendship is “equal and respectful.”
Hollande “knows he must have stable, good relations with Germany if he is in power,” said Grunberg. “But when he uses the word balanced relations, it’s his way of saying he won’t accept everything from them.”
The spat reemerged last night when French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Hollande needs to show “firmness in reining in his allies’ remarks.” adding that he was ”complacent.”
An Ifop poll for Atlantico web site showed Hollande would win against Sarkozy in the May final round of the elections. The Socialist frontrunner would gather 56 percent of the votes against 44 percent for Sarkozy. Paris-based Ifop called 934 registered voters and published a margin of error of 3.2 percent.