Trouble between Merkozy?

Merkel and Sarkozy's ties frosty after summer of discontent

by Emsie FerreiraSat Sep 15, 11:09 PM ET AFP

Four months after Nicolas Sarkozy became France's new president, a cool wind is blowing between Paris and Berlin as tensions appear in his pivotal relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

From a bruising European Union summit in June, through weeks of simmering discord over the independence of the European Central Bank to a patronising remark on nuclear power last Monday, Sarkozy has repeatedly offended Merkel, observers in both capitals say.

The German daily Rheinische Post spoke of a "deep crisis" between the leaders of the two countries who regard themselves as the driving force of the EU.

French right-wing newspaper Le Figaro reported that the reserved chancellor has become increasingly irritated at Sarkozy's "rough and ready" manner.

It said she resents his attempts to claim the credit for collective successes on the European front, like the hard-won accord in Brussels on a new governing treaty for the EU and Libya's release of the six condemned Bulgarian medics in July.

And German officials suggest the chancellor is uncomfortable with Sarkozy's warm but familiar way of kissing and hugging her whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac kept his distance with an old-fashioned kiss on the hand.

The French president signalled that the gloves came off during a bilateral meeting at a baroque castle at Meseberg outside Berlin on Monday and that the antagonism between him and Merkel is mutual at the moment.

French government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez said Sarkozy told his cabinet that his latest talks with the first German chancellor to grow up in the former communist east were "very frank" -- diplomatic speak for heated.

"He added that one has to get to know the person behind the words, that Germany had undergone a profound change and that the personality of Madame Merkel, a woman from the east with all that that entails, also marks a change," Wauquiez said.

Sarkozy is reported to have lost his temper with German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in Brussels in July when he criticised France's budget policy and to have waited in vain for Merkel to rebuke her minister.

Observers say there has been tension in the air from the outset between Sarkozy and Merkel, who has been lauded for her low-key but deft touch on the international stage.

Sarkozy flew to Berlin hours after his inauguration on May 16 to show that, like his post-war predecessors, he values France's special relationship with Germany.

But the German media reported that the mood between him and Merkel was strained already over dinner that night.

A guest editorial by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon in Le Figaro on Friday called for unity, and said even friends were allowed to disagree sometimes.

"The few misunderstandings or prejudices that sometimes make themselves felt between our two countries detract nothing from the richness of our partnership," he wrote.

The newspaper offered relationship advice for the power couple.

Sarkozy, it said, should respect Merkel's lack of political room to manoeuvre at home.

And the chancellor should learn from former chancellor Konrad Adenauer who said that when dealing with the French, one must salute their flag three times before getting down to business.

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