Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sarkozy and Merkel "may be like Laurel and Hardy — different but complementary"

…they do not like each other at all
writes Steven Erlanger in The New York Times' Paris bureau chief's retelling of the "fractured tale of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy."
BORN ONLY SIX months apart, the two could not be more different in terms of personality and worldview. …

It was from Chancellor Kohl that [Merkel] learned the importance of pandering to French vanities about being the true beating heart of the European ideal. And then when Kohl got into trouble, his Eastern maiden became Germany’s first female chancellor.

That is when she had to face Sarkozy. “She’s a scientist, almost like a German cliché, planning everything, going step by step, unemotional, not a show horse,” Stefan Kornelius, a senior editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, told me. “But Sarkozy’s the kind of macho man that she doesn’t like at all. And she and the chancellery are irritated by his jumping from issue to issue, his lack of attention, his inability to do German systematic work. She’s a technocrat with a hidden husband, and he’s flamboyant, with a beautiful woman” — the singer and former model Carla Bruni — “at his side.”

…Unlike Sarkozy, famous for absorbing a complicated brief as he walks to a meeting, Merkel is an assiduous worker and normally the best-prepared person in the room. Sarkozy rules France like a king; Merkel is a coalition politician who wants to bring others along. The Germans like to tell a joke about Sarkozy piloting a plane and informing the passengers he has good news and bad news: “The good news is that we’re ahead of schedule. The bad news is that we’re lost.”
FRANCE AND GERMANY, with their shared bloody past, are unlikely allies, and they have radically different notions of how Europe should work. France wants a state-dominated, centralized, bureaucratic Europe in its own image. France also maintains a Mediterranean attitude toward budget deficits, having last balanced a budget 35 years ago. Germany, a federal state with powerful regions, coalition governments and an influential constitutional court, wants a Europe of laws, discipline and fiscal probity, with a strong currency and real penalties for the spendthrift.

…If Germany speaks for Europe’s largely industrial Protestant north, France has always combined north and agricultural south. “Sarkozy is being the spokesman for the south, but he also understands that Germany has the clout,” Le Gloannec says. “So you have to say yes to some of what they want, but at the same time Germany can’t talk to all Europeans or take a public leadership role. In a way, the Germans really don’t know how to talk to others. She and he may be like Laurel and Hardy — different but complementary.”