‘Selfish’ Merkel phrase reveals French rift with Germany

Row over leaked document threatens Franco-German relations

German chancellor Angela Merkel addressing the audience at the annual German Savings Banks Association meeting in Dresden last Thurday. A leaked French socialist party commission document referred to the “selfish intransigence of Chancellor Merkel, who thinks only of German depositors, Berlin’s trade balance and her electoral future”. Photograph: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

German chancellor Angela Merkel addressing the audience at the annual German Savings Banks Association meeting in Dresden last Thurday. A leaked French socialist party commission document referred to the “selfish intransigence of Chancellor Merkel, who thinks only of German depositors, Berlin’s trade balance and her electoral future”. Photograph: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Mon, Apr 29, 2013, 06:00

After nine hours of debate, a French socialist party commission has agreed to excise an aggressive phrase regarding “the selfish intransigence of [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel” from a draft document on Europe which will be ratified by France’s ruling party tomorrow.

Yet the leaking of the 21-page document criticising “the Europe of the right” by Le Monde ’s website on Friday showed how deeply the rift over austerity is affecting French politics, and the extent to which Germany has become a scapegoat for French frustrations. It can only worsen Paris’s already poor relations with Germany.

“We have rarely had such bad relations between our two countries,” the former conservative prime minister François Fillon said on a visit to Berlin. “Hollande hasn’t forgiven Merkel for refusing to meet him during his campaign.”

The document will serve as the basis for a socialist convention on Europe to be held on June 16th. The original version said that Europe was threatened “by a marriage of convenience between the Thatcherite leanings of the current British prime minister – who only conceives of a Europe a la carte and of rebates – and the selfish intransigence of Chancellor Merkel, who thinks only of German depositors, Berlin’s trade balance and her electoral future”.


Vociferous criticism
The socialists altered the text in the face of vociferous criticism from conservative politicians. “The socialist party declares war on Germany,” was the front-page headline of Saturday’s Le Figaro .

The socialist offensive was “insane”, said Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner for internal markets and financial services. “Let’s look at what works in Germany instead of criticising.” France could learn from Germany’s social dialogue, regional entrepreneurship, apprentice system, support for industry and balanced budget, he said.

The former conservative prime minister Alain Juppé evoked the “deadly peril” of confrontation with Germany in an interview with Le Monde . “A growing part of the left wants to engage in a political battle against deficit reductions by pinning them on a liberal German vision, or Brussels bureaucrats,” he said. “The reality is that France will this year become the leading source of public debt in Europe.”

The revised document no longer calls for a “democratic confrontation” with Germany. Dr Merkel’s “intransigence” has been replaced by a reference to “the liberal policies of the German right”.

But Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the socialist member of the national assembly and vice-president of the European socialist party who oversaw its drafting, warned “the battle for an alternative majority to the right-wing parties that govern Europe has begun.”

Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault attempted to limit the damage by issuing two tweets, in French and German. “We will not resolve the problems of Europe without an intense and sincere dialogue between France and Germany,” he wrote. “Franco-German friendship is indispensable to give new momentum to the European project and find the path back to growth.”

Yet the attitude of the French executive remains ambiguous. Socialist leaders agreed on the principle of a “combative text against right-wing European parties” at a meeting on April 22nd. Ayrault cautioned that it would be “dangerous” for the text to “go too far”.

The Élysée subsequently stressed that it was the socialist party, not President Hollande, who expressed itself in the normal “play of politics”.