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French first lady stirs controversy in German Bundestag

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed French first lady Carla Bruni to make a personal appeal to the parliament for humanitarian aid. But some German lawmakers say they do not want a celebrity visit.

Carla Bruni

Some German politicians gave Bruni a cold shoulder earlier

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed France's first lady Carla Bruni to make a personal appeal to the German parliament for humanitarian aid, despite a dismissive response to the plan by some German politicians.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Thursday that the chancellor supported Bruni's aim to speak before the budget committee of the Bundestag lower house to seek funding as an ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"The Chancellor found this a good idea because Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy could deliver important arguments," he said, using the former model and singer-songwriter's married name.

'No celebrities, please'

Otto Fricke, a budget policy specialist of the Free Democrats (FDP), came out against the move, warning that the budget committee "mustn't give the impression that celebrity status ensures access to [committee meetings]."

The head of the budget committee, Petra Merkel of the opposition Social Democrats, said meanwhile that she had yet to receive a request from Bruni to speak.

"We had a similar case with the (U2) singer Bono, who wanted to speak to the committee a few years ago but we refused because it did not comply with our rules," she added, referring to a decision made in 2008.

Another member of the committee, Norbert Barthle of Merkel's Christian Democrats, stressed that the committee did not in principle invite representatives of special interests, adding, "If we open the door to that, we would have to receive every representative of a social welfare and economic association or lobbyists."

Carla Bruni, Nicolas Sarkozy and Felipe Calderon in Mexico

Bruni is known for attracting more attention on international visits than her husband

Under pressure

Merkel's support for Bruni may have been a bid to soothe diplomatic relations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy - which have already faced challenges this month over France's controversial expulsion of illegal Roma migrants.

German press agency dpa reported that the idea for Bruni's Berlin trip was broached during a meeting between Merkel and Sarkozy in New York, to which Sarkozy brought his wife and son. Earlier, the two leaders were at odds over Sarkozy's claim that the chancellor intended to adopt a similiar campaign of deporting illegal Roma immigrants.

Bruni reportedly wants to ask Germany for an extra 200 million euros ($268 million) for the Global Fund, to which Sarkozy promised a billion euros from France.

Germany's development ministry has set aside only 200 million euros for the fund next year and has ruled out further pledges for now.

Author: David Levitz (AFP/dpa/Reuters)

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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