Paris's Provocation Sarkozy Wrestles with Merkel for European Dominance
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is challenging German Chancellor Angela Merkel for leadership of Europe. But shes hoping to slow down Frances hyperactive new leader to ensure German influence on the Continent -- while avoiding an open confrontation between Paris and Berlin.
Crimping her style: Is French President Nicolas Sarkozy trying to usurp Angela Merkel's leadership role in Europe?
The political showdown is another entertaining option for the public. Only one politician leaves the battlefield as victor after its all over and the winner makes sure everyone is aware of his political virility by throwing his weight around.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel prefers a mixture of patience, restraint and attrition. She suffers the macho rituals of her predominately male counterparts without complaint. She simply ignores provocations where possible and, if necessary, interjects with mild sarcasm to nudge her negotiating partner in the right direction.
The two leaders have known each other for years, but in Toulouse they meet at the bargaining table for the first time. The summit will set the tone for their working relationship -- and the Franco-German partnership -- well into the future. Both are aware that the European Union can't function if Paris and Berlin are at odds.
Angela Merkel und EU-Präsident Jose Manuel Barroso
Sarkozy is looking for a fight wherever he can. He's pushing for more influence for the French state at aerospace company EADS, which controls Toulouse-based airplane maker Airbus. He has also called into question the independence of the European Central Bank, blocked EU negotiations with Turkey and undermined the European position on Kosovos status.
'Sparks Are Flying'
A showdown appears unavoidable. The France experts in Berlin have long since dug trenches, mentally, to fend off the French attacks. Sparks are flying, says a Merkel advisor in the Chancellery. Diplomats at the Foreign Ministry quietly echo that assessment. Apparently everything is going according to Sarkozy's plan.
But Merkel doesnt want to duel with Sarkozy. She'd rather avoid confrontation and harness Sarkozys seemingly unbridled energy. She has made it known that anyone who wants to reform the rather stagnant European Union should have a free hand in Brussels. Frances new president could be just the man to shake things up.
That might sound clever, but it may also obscure Merkels true intentions. She wants to clarify Berlins position on central Franco-German disputes, like the future of Airbus. Sarkozy can't expect old-fashioned German compliance. At the same time, Merkel won't humor challenges to her leading role in Europe -- especially not from the new French president.
The Running Man
But the Frenchman has proved to be a formidable opponent. In reference to Frances high-speed train the TGV, Sarkozy in Paris is now known as PGV -- Président à la grande vitesse. The high-speed president might live amid the golden pomp of the Élysée Palace on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore like his predecessors, but thats where the similarities with Francois Mitterand and Jacques Chirac end.
If he were still a schoolboy, Frances new leader would be diagnosed as hyperactive. Sarkozy zooms from one appearance to another. Hardly a day goes by without a photo op, a sound bite for TV or a press release. Even his athletic attempts to stay in shape by jogging are used for political spin -- the president is constantly on the move.
A man constantly on the run: If Sarkozy were a school kid, he would get diagnosed with hyperactivity.
Sarkozy himself had predicted nothing less, saying as a candidate that he wanted to be a president who governs and he promised: I will not allow anyone to get in the way of reforms. What Ive said I will do. I will be inexhaustible.
The members of his cabinet can interpret those sentiments as a threat. Sarkozy operates as a virtual multi-minister, usurping the work of several portfolios. Whether it's lower tax rates for Frances wealthier citizens, more take-home pay for working overtime, or essentially getting rid of inheritance taxes, the president has involved himself in all the gritty details.
- Part 1: Sarkozy Wrestles with Merkel for European Dominance
- Part 2: Ruffling Feathers, in Europe and Abroad