Germany Greets Sarkozy Victory A Beacon of Hope for Europe?

Although Nicolas Sarkozy played the nationalist card during the election campaign, the future French president is still regarded as a beacon of hope for the EU -- particularly by the German government. Nevertheless, there are likely to be conflicts ahead on a number of issues, including talks on Turkish membership.

By in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy: Will he be able to help restart the stalled EU constitution?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy: Will he be able to help restart the stalled EU constitution?

The first foreign trip by a newly elected head of state always has great symbolic value: It is perceived as an indication of the new leader's foreign policy priorities and who he considers to be his closest allies. The newly elected French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said that he will be paying a call on Berlin and Brussels as soon as he takes office.

That is in keeping with tradition, yet these are also carefully chosen destinations. During the election campaign it was Sarkozy in particular who played the nationalist card -- now he wants to earn a reputation as a good European. But up until now, he has not come across as particularly friendly to Brussels, quite the opposite in fact. As economics minister, Sarkozy was a tough protectionist, who wanted to protect France's "national champions" from too much disagreeable competition from other European Union countries. Among other things, he fought to stop the planned acquisition of Alstom by Germany's Siemens. And it was he who in May 2004 initiated his party's decision to hold a referendum on the EU treaty. The French "non" led to the current EU crisis.

Nevertheless Germany, as current EU president, will breath a collective sigh of relief that Sarkozy has prevailed. Unlike his rival Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy does not want to let the French vote again on the constitutional treaty. Instead he wants a slimmed-down version, with only institutional reforms for the 27-member bloc, to be ratified as soon as possible -- and not by the people, but by parliament. The discussions about a more comprehensive EU constitution would then be postponed to a later date.

This pragmatism reflects that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, as EU president, has already been working on a roadmap that would save the "substance of the constitutional treaty" by 2009. A further indication of Sarkozy's new pro-European stance is the fact that in March he was the only candidate in the French election to publicly support the Berlin Declaration, which marked the EU's 50th anniversary, and which called for the revival of the constitution. It is also in Sarkozy's own interest to clear the hurdles as soon as possible since France is due to take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2008. If every thing goes according to Merkel's roadmap, Sarkozy could end up being celebrated as the savior of the constitutional treaty.

His desire to align himself more closely with Brussels can also be seen in his staffing choices. With former EU commissioner Michel Barnier on his team, he has a Brussels insider who could also have prospects of becoming a minister in the Sarkozy cabinet.

Turkey: Return to the Privileged Partnership?

Other issues, however, could well lead to clashes. Sarkozy is a genuine opponent of further EU expansion. Even before the entry of Bulgaria and Romania he had called for an end to the accession of any more countries. And unlike his predecessor Jacques Chirac, he categorically rejects EU membership for Turkey. The Turkish newspaper Vatan has called him the "greatest opponent of Turkey in Europe." Sarkozy has repeatedly explained that as far as he is concerned geographically, Turkey doesn’t belong in Europe, but rather in Asia.

However, Sarkozy has so far not revealed if he would push for an immediate halt to the current entry talks with Turkey. On Monday, the leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, demanded that Sarkozy make his position clear on whether or not he is in favor of the current open-ended negotiations.

In Germany, Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) welcomed their new ally. Ingo Friedrich, a CSU member of the European Parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Merkel's vision of a privileged partnership with Turkey had now gained new momentum. And his party colleague Markus Feber said he assumed that the current accession talks would now be pushed in the direction of a privileged partnership. However, Merkel's coalition agreement with the Social Democrats stipulates that the negotiations should have the aim of eventual entry by Turkey into the EU.

The Franco-German relationship -- which was first feted as an old boy's club friendship between Mitterand and Kohl and later under Chirac and Schröder. Of course, Merkel and Sarkozy do share many political views -- which has germinated hopes in the German media of a new Franco-German dream couple. In her congratulatory note to Sarkozy, Merkel said the "proven German-French friendship" should continue to form the basis of the EU. For his part, Sarkozy bowed to the old alliance with his planned inaugural visit to Berlin.


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