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Euro’s fate hangs with Mr & Mrs ‘Merkozy’

7 December 2011 No Comment

He sends her wine and gives her fine French cheese. She sends him teddy bears.

At last, after years of antipathy verging on outright hostility, the on-off relationship of Europe’s most unlikely couple looks set to be consummated this week.

Angela Merkel, 57, and Nicolas Sarkozy, 56, are thrashing out the final pre-nuptial arrangements for the political marriage of convenience that will save the euro and possibly Europe. The two leaders meet again today, in Paris, to see whether they can agree final terms for a closer union that could save the euro.
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“Together we will make proposals to guarantee Europe’s future,” Mr Sarkozy said last week.

The arranged marriage, which at times resembles a shotgun wedding, will see both Germany and France commit, for better or for worse, to a deeper European Union and accept a greater sharing of their worldly goods through more EU federalism.

As a suitor, the French president has shown impeccable Gallic charm. Realising that his normal hand-kissing, touchy-feely approach cuts no ice with the frosty Frau Merkel, he changed tack and began sending her cases of finest Bordeaux and a respectably dry white wine.

More recently, on learning that she sometimes queues up in Galeries Lafayette, the French department store in Berlin, for French cheese, he picked some up in Paris to present to her when they next met.

In return, she recently gave him a Steiff teddy bear for his newborn daughter Giulia – a more lukewarm gesture, admittedly, from the Teutonic bride-to-be.

Regular chats – in English

In recent weeks, as their partnership blossomed in the spotlight of various summits and emergency meetings, the phone lines between Berlin and Paris have been buzzing.

“They call each other all the time. Each important decision is run past the other for approval,” confirmed the Elysee palace last week.

Since she doesn’t speak French, nor he German, the language of love when all is going smoothly is English. When the arguments start, though, both revert to their mother tongue and the interpreters must be called in.

The French press reported with the breathlessness normally reserved for celebrity news, that there had been “little moments of tenderness” between the pair and with a certain anxiety that Frau Merkel seemed to have the upper hand in the partnership.

Le Parisien discovered that the two had unexpectedly found themselves in the same hotel corridor in Cannes’ Hotel Majestic during last month’s G20 summit, at 2.30am.

“Before returning to their rooms they stood there prattling away for 10 minutes without advisors, without translators,” it reported one German official saying. “They were like an old couple,” it added, summing up in six short words, the cross-cultural divide in matters of the heart.

“I’ve been spending more time with Angela than I have with my wife,” Mr Sarkozy joked after the summit.

‘Diesel’

Mr Sarkozy may be all charm to Mrs Merkel’s face, but behind her back he lapses into less than gallant complaining that she is like a “diesel” car, plodding along, and that she lacks imagination. “It’s very simple. She always comes around to my ideas… but three months later,” he told French journalists recently.

That they are always rowing about Europe, finance and politics is nothing new. But when Mr Sarkozy turns personal, colleagues say Mrs Merkel feels hurt. His recent aside that Mrs Merkel “says she is on a diet and then has a second helping of cheese”, was said, by German officials, to have been a particularly low blow.

As with many couples, money is at the heart of the discord. In short, Mr Sarkozy wants Germany to pay the costs of rescuing the euro, while Mrs Merkel argues that Germany cannot afford to do this, even if it wanted to – and that Mr Sarkozy must be prepared to submit his finances (along with those of other EU family members) to German scrutiny for that even to be a possibility.

In a recent biography of Mr Sarkozy, French magazine editor Franz-Olivier Giesbert recounted an exchange between the two at a European summit. “We are made to get on,” says the French president. “We are the head and legs (of the EU).”

“No, Nicolas,” replies the chancellor. “You are the head and legs. I am the bank.”

Mercurial versus ponderous

An American diplomatic memo published by Wikileaks suggested the Merkozy partnership is an attraction of opposites. Mr Sarkozy, nicknamed Super Sarko the Omnipresident after his election in 2007, is mercurial, impulsive, and has a notoriously short fuse. “Just being in a room with Sarkozy is enough to make anyone’s stress levels increase,” read the 2007 US cable.

Mrs Merkel, on the other hand, has degrees in physics and quantum chemistry, and a personality that embodies caution and a deliberate, bordering on ponderous approach to problem solving. The German chancellor will not be rushed into anything by her impetuous French partner and tends to become irritated by his grandstanding and publicity seeking, not to mention the way he cannot keep his hands to himself.

The European summit meeting this week could be decisive in moulding the future of the EU, with analysts suggesting France and Germany are moving towards the idea of a two-speed Europe with Berlin and Paris in the driving seat.

The Merkozy couple may disagree on exactly how to drag the euro zone out of the sovereign debt crisis, but are together in principle, on the idea that the eurozone countries needed to go further along the road to a fiscal union in order to avoid future disasters. Mrs Merkel firmly believes national governments have to coordinate their policies more closely in order to have “a common stable currency”. Mr Sarkozy has begun increasingly echoing the same line over the past few weeks.

Mr and Mrs Merkozy have little in common and are an unlikely match. They shout and argue then kiss and make up and send each other personal presents. And they stomp off in a huff to separate rooms after a row. Just like millions of other couples really.

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