News / Europe

France Looks for Mellower Post-Election Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande react after a speech in front of the Reims cathedral in Reims, eastern France, July 8, 2012.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande react after a speech in front of the Reims cathedral in Reims, eastern France, July 8, 2012.
Reuters
With quiet satisfaction, France's Socialist government has watched Angela Merkel strike an ever softer stance on Europe in recent months as she prepares for Germany's election.

What's more, Paris believes the poll might just nudge the conservative chancellor yet further from the hardline fiscal austerity policies she has embodied for much of the euro zone's debt crisis.

With two months to go before the September 22 election, Francois Hollande's government rates Merkel's chances of securing a third term at “85, even 90 percent,” a senior aide told Reuters. More strikingly, it is comfortable with that outcome.

Just a year ago, Merkel contemplated letting debt-stressed Greece be jettisoned from the euro currency zone, while the newly-elected Hollande pondered leading a revolt of southern states to counter a feared German hegemony over Europe.

Both stepped back from confrontation.

Hollande saw it was bad for French debt yields for France to be aligned with troubled states such as Greece or Italy; and Merkel feared her rising unpopularity outside Germany was a political liability, and was spooked by the huge potential cost to Berlin if a Greek exit led to a euro zone breakup.

In the 50th anniversary year of the World War II foes' 1963 friendship pact, Berlin and Paris struck a “Realpolitik” truce.

France got more breathing space to get its public finances in shape but has dropped talk of euro debt mutualization and other projects that are anathema to Berlin. Hot potatoes such as completing the EU's banking union must also wait till next year.

Some in Hollande's Socialist party continue to rail against Merkel's “self-centered intransigence” and to depict German policies as the main obstacle to reviving the European economy.

Yet Hollande - who during his 2012 presidential campaign was denied a reception in Berlin by Merkel - has refused to give explicit backing either to the incumbent or to Peer Steinbrueck, rival candidate of the German Social Democrats.

He did attend the Social Democrats' 150th anniversary bash in Leipzig, but then so did Merkel.

When Merkel hosted a Berlin summit this month to show she wants to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment in Europe, Hollande was happy to be at her side - despite concerns in his party that the whole thing was a German election stunt.

“She is doing this with two things in mind,” a French diplomatic source acknowledged at the July 3 meeting, which critics derided as a “show summit” with little substance.

“First, to prepare the election - and no one can blame her for that. Second, there is the European angle: to show Germany cares about youth unemployment and is open to new ideas.”

Wishful thinking? Much will depend on the exact vote count and weeks of coalition negotiations that will ensue in Berlin in the likely event that no party secures an outright majority.

“Divine surprise”

Merkel is riding high in the polls with around 40 percent support - not enough for her Christian Democrats to rule alone. Her current liberal Free Democrat partners risk dipping below the five percent threshold to win any parliamentary seats.

In the quest to broaden her appeal past her conservative grass roots, Merkel's manifesto includes nods to policies such as a minimum wage, which Hollande's Socialists have long argued Germany should embrace to match similar provisions in France.

“It has been a bit of a divine surprise in Paris that, in mid-campaign, instead of turning into an even tougher cookie, Angela Merkel has become a sweeter proposition,” noted Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

If Merkel does not win an outright majority and the FDP are not available as partners, the next choice as coalition partner would likely be the Social Democrats (SPD), currently struggling at around 25 percent of the vote. She might also try for a deal with the ecologist Greens, but they look more incompatible with her Christian Democrats and especially with the Bavarian Christian Social Union.

Badly burnt by a 2005-2009 “grand coalition” with Merkel in which it hemorrhaged voters, the SPD would only enter a similar pact again if it won assurances from Merkel that it would have a clear say on policy and senior representation in government.

“A grand coalition would help change Germany's view of other countries. And abroad, Angela Merkel wouldn't be seen as the only winner,” said a senior French source of the scenario.

Convincing vision

Even in a grand coalition, Merkel is not seen backing down from core positions on Europe such as rejection of Eurobonds and reluctance to allow regulatory control of the German banking sector to slip too far out of national hands.

But there is hope in France that left-leaning allies would be able to squeeze a few significant concessions on Europe.

Paris has made no secret of its displeasure with Jose Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese conservative heading the European Commission. When his mandate ends in 2014 it would look to a grand coalition in Berlin to back a center-left successor: in French eyes European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a German, would be the front-runner.

Hollande could also look to Berlin for backing to accelerate and expand an EU growth pact agreed at a June 2012 summit, a 120-billion-euro package of Keynesian stimulus measures which Paris complains is not being implemented quickly enough.

And Paris will need political cover from Berlin if it once again falls short on deficit-cutting promises to Brussels. Credit ratings agency Fitch's Friday move to downgrade France underlined persistent fears of debt overshoots.

All of this could make for a cozier Franco-German couple.

But some argue that, unless that couple goes on to really tackle Europeans' main concerns - unemployment being top of the list - it will not be enough to stop voters turning massively to Eurosceptic parties such as France's anti-immigrant National Front in European elections next year.

“I expect Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel to accelerate the drive towards European integration,” said a senior diplomat in Paris.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More