June 9, 2010
Angela Merkel's last-minute decision to cancel a dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy this week has left many questioning the state of relations between the two countries. But German papers warn that the common currency can only be saved through their leadership.
By the time Angela Merkel unexpectedly cancelled her planned dinner meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday, the French press corps had already landed at Berlin's Tegel Airport. In Paris and Berlin, the surprise move triggered endless speculation over why the chancellor had cancelled -- was she doing it to protect Sarkozy from a prickly domestic political debate over budget cuts or out of irritation over their differences on how to address the euro crisis?
The surprise decision came the same day the chancellor announced a contentious package of savings measures that would slash her government's budget by around €80 billion ($95 billion) by 2014 to meet the requirements of the European Unions's stability pact as well as the so-called "debt brake" amendment to the German constitution requiring a balanced budget by 2016.
In Germany and France, the cancellation is being perceived in the media as reflective of the growing divide between Paris and Berlin over how best to deal with the sovereign debt and euro crisis. Merkel has said she would like to adopt a savings package that would serve as a model for other European countries and show the way out of a crisis that has pressured the euro.
But in Paris, French government officials have rejected adopting the kind of heavy austerity measures being championed in Berlin. France's government minister in charge of stimulus efforts, Patrick Devedjian, on Tuesday warned against similar measures for his country, saying it "would be dangerous because it risks killing growth."
The two countries are also split on how to save the euro. Sarkozy is pushing for a euro zone economic governance which would include only the 16 euro zone member states in tighter coordination of economic policies. Merkel, however, would like to see greater economic policy coordination between all 27 EU member states and has called for the European Council to establish an economic policy forum. So far, neither side has shown a willingness to budge.
Nothing Is Possible without Merkel and Sarkozy
The French media were highly critical of Monday's cancellation. Liberation wrote,
"Does Angela Merkel still trust Nicolas Sarkozy? It is extremely rare that a bilateral meeting is cancelled only a few hours before it is to take place."And French paper of record Le Monde wrote that Merkel was "not willing" to discuss the issues with Sarkozy on Monday night.
"That's too bad," the paper wrote, "Nothing is possible without agreement between the two."Liberation has also reported that Sarkozy has stated "privately" that he is frustrated with Merkel's hesitance and delays in moving to prop up the euro. Speaking on French radio, former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, said the cancellation was a sign that Germany "has lost its faith in France."
In Berlin, the government has downplayed the kerfuffle, saying the French press speculation about a rift between Merkel and Sarkozy is "untrue." The German daily Frankfurter Rundschau claims that officials speaking off the record said Merkel was seeking to spare Sarkozy from Germany's "domestic showdown" over the savings package as well as possible uncomfortable questions from reporters on why France has no plans for major austerity measures.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, most German newspaper editorials don't buy that logic, arguing that Franco-German relations are ailing and Merkel's decision is a sign of the malaise.
After admonishing Merkel not to put "valuable" German-French relations at risk, the conservative Die Welt writes:
"Sarkozy and Merkel were supposed to meet to prepare for an EU meeting on June 17, but the views on how to address the crisis and the future of European economic policies have diverged in Paris and Berlin to a point not seen in years. Unfriendliness and misunderstandings are also increasing. France wants a European economic government and an institutionalization of the euro group, of which Sarkozy would very much like to be president. Germany is not enthused by the idea. And why should it be? Berlin doesn't want to reduce the Europe of 27 to one of 16 euro-zone countries. Berlin is also increasingly eyeing Sarkozy's knee-jerk style with irritation: German politicians believe he is more concerned about French interests than Europe's common good. In contrast to Paris, the Germans are insisting on stricter stability requirements. France rejects these. But what is weighing just as heavily as the political differences of opinion is the growing distrust between the partners. All of Europe is suffering as a result."The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"How else can one interpret this than as being a sign of irritation that has risen out of deep-seated differences of opinion, that the chancellor cancelled her meeting … at the last minute? … But a dispute like that is the last thing the EU and the German-French relationship needs right now. A rescue and lasting stabilization of the currency union will only happen if Paris and Berlin can negotiate as one on fundamental questions. Without credible German-French coordination, there will be no credibility in the euro zone."On Tuesday, the center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote:
"The EU is taking a hit with the economic crisis, the euro's decline, weak leadership in Brussels and introverted member states. It is threatened with creeping decline. Thus, it is again looking to France and Germany for leadership. ... And there is much more at stake here than the current crisis. Europe is not a nation. It is too heterogenous to live without a vision. It needs goals -- which the internal market and the euro once provided."
"Sarkozy and Merkel must point the way to the furture in order to pull the EU out of its apathy. Both are too smart to risk the German-French friendship. That's why, at some point, they will reach an agreement on the issues that divide them: the European economic government that Sarkozy desires, and the budget discipline that Merkel is calling for. But that will not be enough. The citizens of the EU don't know how they are supposed to push Europe forward after the crisis, and Sarkozy and Merkel don't either."
"The petty quibbling on both sides should be forgotten. In the past, the president has often appealed to Berlin and said that he was prepared to do great things together. The chancellor was always skeptical. But this time she should take Sarkozy at his word."