Desperate for all the help they can get, backers of French President Nicolas Sarkozy are welcoming a recent show of support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sarkozy is trailing his socialist rival, François Hollande, ahead of France’s May election.
BERLIN -- Hour by hour, the number of people in France who would bet on Nicolas Sarkozy's reelection as French president in May dwindles. In Berlin, however, the French incumbent is still the man to beat in the eyes of at least one influential person: Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Last Saturday Merkel let it be known through Hermann Gröhe, the secretary general of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party to which she belongs, that she was "looking forward to joint appearances in the French election campaigns this spring."
In Paris the news caused a stir since technically speaking, Sarkozy hasn't yet declared himself a candidate. Speculation was rife as to whether he would announce his candidacy during an appearance on French TV on Sunday evening, 84 days before the elections, or delay the announcement further in the interests of appearing presidential and above the political fray for as long as possible.
Many of Sarkozy's supporters are losing patience. As Socialist candidate François Hollande gets into high gear with his campaign, the president's backers want to see their man moving into action as well.
Lifting the mood – in German
Just hours before the French president's Sunday television appearance, Hermann Gröhe – during a brief visit to Paris – added to the drama with remarks delivered before a congress of France's UMP, the party Sarkozy led before his presidency. "We need a strong France, and a strong president such as our friend Nicolas Sarkozy leading the country," Gröhe said as the audience applauded for the first time that afternoon.
"The UMP and France under the leadership of their farsighted president are in a good position," he assured the members of the UMP, a French sister party of his own CDU. "Based on the vague statements we've heard up to now," Gröhe added, Mr. Hollande is not in a position to "answer the pressing problems of our times." Hollande's "musty concepts' and "leftist wealth re-distribution fantasies' would weaken France, which is something it can't afford, he said.
Although Gröhe's speech was in German, his remarks – communicated to the audience of over 5,000 via French translation – were a real mood booster for the UMP representatives, who have watched glumly as poll after poll favors François Hollande to win the upcoming election.
After his speech, UMP Secretary General Jean-François Copé praised Gröhe, saying: "You get more applause in German than many of us do in French." Former French Prime Minister and UMP Vice-President Jean-Pierre Raffarin praised Gröhe in German: "Das war richtig und wichtig" (That was right and important).
Meanwhile, at the Elysée where Sarkozy was preparing his TV appearance, the tone was reserved about the enthusiastic German support. A statement from the presidential office addressed Gröhe's remarks about joint election campaign appearances specifically: "Nicolas Sarkozy and the chancellor have actually never discussed this for the simple reason that the president is not yet a candidate. So nothing has been organized."
However, according to the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, the German chancellor will be attending the launch of the president's electoral campaign. This has not been denied in UMP circles. In fact, word is out that the UMP leadership, which for months has been meeting regularly to talk strategy with leading Christian Democrats, asked for the support. In Berlin, this was seen as another sign of the high esteem that Angela Merkel enjoys abroad.
Striking a statesman-like stand
On Sunday, the Journal du Dimanche ran the title "Merkel elects Sarkozy." François Hollande, who if possible refuses to mention the President by name, took a stab at a statesman-like stand: "If the UMP candidate i.e. Sarkozy wishes to invite Mrs. Merkel, that's well within his rights. And if Mrs. Merkel wishes to come to France to support the incumbent, she is free to do so. If Mrs. Merkel campaigns for Nicolas Sarkozy it doesn't mean that she and I can't work sensibly together should I be elected president in May."
In early December, Hollande himself spoke at the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) congress and closed his remarks with a phrase in German: "Dear Comrades, I am certain we will win together." That's a scenario Mrs. Merkel has every interest in preventing. Hollande would certainly be a more difficult partner than Sarkozy, who would want to renegotiate recent decisions made in Brussels, introduce Eurobonds, and prod the European Central Bank to print more money.
Furthermore, if Hollande were to win, France would be the sixth European country after Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and Italy to change governments following the euro crisis – which would pretty much mean that the writing was on the wall for the Merkel government.
CDU Secretary General Gröhe told Die Welt that he "deliberately chose very clear words' to signal the chancellor's support for Mr. Sarkozy because "in the last year and a half, Germany and France have achieved far-reaching consensus as regards the right way of dealing with the debt crisis. Hollande is questioning key elements of this consensus, but disturbing it would have severe consequences for France as well as the stabilization of the euro and with it all of Europe."
Read the original story in German
Photo - European People's Party - EPP