Merkel starts campaigning for Sarkozy


BRUSSELS, Belgium — The unlikely political love-in between France’s bling-bling president and the austere, clergyman’s daughter who runs Germany reached a new level of intensity Monday.

At a meeting in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to support Nicolas Sarkozy “on all levels” as the French leader faces an uphill battle to hang onto his job in this spring’s presidential election.

Later the pair gave a joint interview carried on French and German TV. “If you're asking me if we are friends, my answer is ‘yes',” Sarkozy gushed. “And I’m happy to have the support of somebody I both admire and consider a friend.”

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The pair have been thrown together by the euro zone economic crisis, which has forced them to overcome the incompatibility which was evident at the beginning of the relationship after Sarkozy was elected in 2007. Germany’s undemonstrative leader barely hid her distaste for the Frenchman’s hyperactive physicality.

The gravity of the debt crisis in Europe has made both leaders acutely aware that they need to work together. Merkel said her decision to campaign for Sarkozy in the French presidential election was natural since their parties belong to the same “political family.” However, her support goes far beyond mere center-right solidarity.

Sarkozy’s Socialist opponent, Francois Hollande, has declared himself opposed to the treaty binding euro zone nations to balance their budgets which is the center piece of Merkel’s master plan for saving the euro zone.

Hollande’s tax-and-spend manifesto is the antithesis of the belt-tightening which Merkel has been seeking to impose on Europe, and she’s worried that the Socialist has soared ahead of Sarkozy in opinion polls ahead of the first round of voting on April 22.

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While Merkel gives him backing, Sarkozy has been telling voters that he’ll be seeking inspiration from Germany for his economic program.

“While our German friends were improving their competitiveness, the French authorities were telling voters the French they could get by working just 35 hours a week, or retiring at 60,” Sarkozy said, referring to policies of previous Socialist administrations.

Critics point out that Sarkozy has done little to pursue such reforms during his five years in power, and they question whether Merkel’s out-front support might back fire with French voters wary of German-style rigor and labor-market flexibility.

Meanwhile, in the latest of their frequent Franco-German summits, Merkel and Sarkozy issued a warning to the Greek authorities that they need to quickly agree on another round of austerity measures or risk losing out on a 137 billion euro bailout from the EU and IMF.

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