Franco-German Friction Is Merkel Getting on Sarkozy's Nerves?
Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel aren't as enamoured of each other as their smiles and embraces might suggest. The charismatic Sarkozy has irked Berlin with his budget policies and his recent rescue mission to Libya. And Merkel and her ministers aren't flavor of the month in Paris either.
Sarkozy and Merkel were very chummy in front of the cameras when they met near Berlin on Monday. But things are apparently very different behind the scenes.
Behind the scenes, however, relations between the two leaders appear to be cooling. Merkel is reported to be getting on Sarkozy's nerves and the German government was deeply unimpressed with his go-it-alone strategy to get Libya to release the Bulgarian nurses it had held for eight years.
German newspaper Rheinische Post reported Tuesday that Sarkozy was miffed by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück who accused him at a July meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels of handing out generous tax gifts to his voters rather than sticking to EU-agreed savings programs.
"How dare you talk to me in that tone," Sarkozy is reported to have snapped back at the minister, and he's believed to be smarting at Merkel for not giving her minister a public dressing down.
Merkel is "getting on Sarkozy's nerves," Rheinische Post quoted an unnamed member of Sarkozy's UMP party as saying. Perhaps it's not surprising given that the two are like chalk and cheese -- the ever-cautious Merkel and the hyperactive, impatient Sarkozy.
Monday's meeting in Meseberg, a regular informal get-together between the French and German governments, also exposed tensions over nuclear policy between France and Germany -- and within Merkel's coalition government.
"Nuclear energy is the energy of the future," Sarkozy declared at the news conference after the meeting. In a reference to France's policy of meeting most of its electricity needs through nuclear power, he said, "I would be happy if Germany followed similar ambitions." It would be difficult if "Germany decides one way and France another," he said.
France currently obtains almost 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, while Germany is committed to phasing out its nuclear reactors by 2021. Merkel's government coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have remained steadfast in their insistence on maintaining the phase-out, but the chancellor has recently been seeking to sway public opinion towards nuclear power.
Merkel called Monday for the continuation of the cooperation between the German company Siemens and the French firm Areva in nuclear power. Germany had an interest in a cooperation which was as deep as possible, she said.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who belongs to the SPD, sees things very differently from Sarkozy, however. "Nuclear energy is anything but a future technology," he told the German daily Tagesspiegel. "Around the world more nuclear power stations are being shut down than built." Gabriel recently called for Germany's seven oldest reactors to be immediately shut down in what some saw as an attempt to get out of Merkel's shadow when it came to environmental policies.