Sarkozy's Visit to Berlin Trouble at the Franco-German Cabaret

It really wasn't all smiles at Nicolas Sarkozy's first quick summit with Angela Merkel last week, in spite of what you saw on TV.

Welcome, Bienvenue, Willkommen? Not so fast.

Welcome, Bienvenue, Willkommen? Not so fast.

The loud re-ignition of the Franco-German "motor" at the heart of Europe -- signalled last Wednesday by Nicolas Sarkozy's quick dinnertime date in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel only hours after his swearing-in as the new president of France -- wasn't nearly as smooth as it sounded. The three-hour meeting started with public declarations about the "sanctity" (Sarkozy's word) of the Franco-German relationship, but behind closed doors the chancellor and the president found plenty to disagree about.

Merkel, for one thing, wants to revive the European Union constitution at an EU summit in June. Even before Sarkozy's election she had campaigned for a slimmed-down draft "treaty" that would allow European countries to work together without creating the sort of bureaucratic super-state that French and Dutch voters rejected in referenda in 2005. To make it work, though, Merkel needs room to negotiate, and during their meeting in Berlin Sarkozy argued for an even slimmer treaty that would include only uncontroversial elements of the 2005 draft. Merkel, reportedly, was extremely cool to the idea. She wants to save as many elements of the old draft as possible (like permanent posts for an EU president and foreign minister), and pointed out to her new French colleague that the constitution had already been ratified by 18 of the current 27 states -- French opinion notwithstanding.

Germany currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and before her term ends in June, Merkel wants an EU-wide agreement on a new constitution.

Merkel also gave a frosty response to Sarkozy's plan to increase the number of shares the French government holds in EADS, the Franco-German aerospace company. Airbus, an EADS subsidiary, has been struggling to deliver the ambitious A380 superjumbo jet, and the Germans are afraid of losing Airbus manufacturing jobs along with influence in the massive company. The A380 project was once hailed as a sign of renewed friendship between Paris and Berlin, but now that Airbus has missed a number of deadlines and EADS shares have fallen, the two governments have bickered, too. On Friday, two days after his meeting with Merkel, Sarkozy told workers at an Airbus factory in Toulouse that his government reserved the right to sell its stake in EADS. "The state will do its task if there is a need for a capital increase, with the aim of one day putting the state's stake on the market," he said. "The aim is not a partial nationalization of EADS. When it goes well again with the company, we could separate from it."

Germany has been pushing in recent months to preserve its influence as well as German jobs at EADS. When the company started a massive restructuring program earlier this year, Berlin fought aggressively to ensure that painful job cuts were applied evenly to Germany and France.

Under former French President Jacques Chirac, Merkel had applied pressure on Paris with some success -- but after the meeting in Berlin on Wednesday her cabinet was gnawing over a new imbalance along the Franco-German axis, according to one top German diplomat. And working together with Sarkozy, the official told SPIEGEL, could turn out to be more difficult than it was under his predecessor Chirac.

In front of the cameras, though, Sarkozy and Merkel were all smiles. "I am quite sure that our cooperation will be strong," the German chancellor told reporters, "and bring progress to the people of both our nations."



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