It began as a hate story. A story of disgust, contempt and mutual mudslinging. She dubbed him "Mr. Bean" and watched Louis de Funes films "in order to understand his clownish behavior." He referred to her as "La Boche" ("the Kraut" ) and mocked her obsession with her weight. ("She tells you she's on this new diet, then she helps herself to cheese twice." )
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is measured and calculating, and the outgoing, short fused French President Nicolas Sarkozy, seem like the oddest of odd couples. The gap between them paralyzed the French-German "European engine," and with it the decision-making process on the Continent and the entire international arena.
But recently, talk of the "inevitable divorce" has been replaced by images of a late honeymoon. In February, Merkel crossed the Rhine and made it clear she was on board the reelection campaign of the "midget clown" who poked fun at her curves. According to German magazine Der Spiegel, she was behind the boycott - worked out among her British, Italian and Spanish colleagues - of the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande during the French election campaign.
"Merkel votes for Sarkozy," the shocked headlines screamed. The taboo was broken. Germany was interfering in France's election campaign. French commentators began discussing Sarkozy's "German obsession," counting the number of times he mentioned the word "Germany" in interviews. Merkel, on the other hand, was depicted as the president of France on "Les Guignols de l'info" (the French version of the British satirical puppet show "Spitting Image," the Israeli version of which was "Chartzufim" ).
The dramatic turnaround can be ascribed to the euro currency crisis. It turned Germany into the lord and master of Europe for the first time since 1945, and turned the "odd couple" into "Merkozy." The crisis made the German model look like a magic formula, the key to the continent's success. The chancellor became the first among equals. She endeavored to pull Europe out of its deep crisis and turn it into a land of order and discipline, of fines and punishments.
But even the "Magician from Berlin" could not have done it without France. Sarkozy helped Merkel to promote the fiscal treaty, formulated to impose fiscal discipline on European Union member states. Merkel will in turn help Sarkozy in his reelection effort, so that he can continue to assist her in implementing the treaty. Only by doing this, she believes, can she herself be reelected in 2013.
Sarkozy has recently employed nationalist rhetoric in order to get votes from the extreme right. Among other things, he called for heightened supervision of immigration and threatened to withdraw France from the Schengen Agreement - a keystone of European integration that in 1985 dropped the continent's internal borders. Merkel knows this is a campaign tactic, and that after the election he will return to himself. The same thing happened after the 2007 election campaign, during which Sarkozy was dragged into demagogic Germanophobia; then, too, he threatened to "close France's borders and toss the key into the Mediterranean."
Merkozy (by the way, the most pro-Israeli French-German pair in EU history ) have brought Paris-Berlin cooperation to a new level, a level in which European policy becomes domestic policy and in which people are beginning "to think without borders."
Merkel trembles at the thought of Hollande replacing her partner and controlling the second largest economy in Europe. Some members of his Socialist Party accused Merkel of "Bismarck-style policies" and called for a war against "the German diktat." Those socialists also compared Sarkozy with Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, the French partner in the 1938 Munich Agreement, signed by Nazi Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy to permit the German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. Hollande himself champions an economic policy that is the opposite of Merkel's. He has also promised that, if elected, he will demand the reopening of the intergovernmental fiscal treaty.
Nevertheless, history teaches us that at the end of the day, pragmatism trumps ideals, which are the sole province of the opposition. The French-German partnership is stronger than any personnel changes. Hollande has already announced that his first presidential visit will be to Berlin. If he does enter the Elysee Palace, it is safe to assume that "Merkozy" will quickly be replaced by "Merllande."
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