German Chancellor Merkel has said ahead of a one-day summit on Monday with President Sarkozy in Germany that she will fully support France's EU presidency next month despite ongoing differences.
France's EU presidency could give Sarkozy the power to promote his policies
Merkel told daily Straubinger Tagblatt ahead of a Franco-German summit Monday that Sarkozy could count on Berlin's help on thorny issues such as climate protection and European Union institutional reforms during Paris' six-month stint at the helm.
"Germany will support the French EU presidency with all its resources just as Nicolas Sarkozy backed our presidency" of the EU in the first half of 2007, she said.
Foreign, Defense, Economy and Environment ministers from both sides are to be present at the meeting in the eastern Bavarian town for a joint ministerial council of the two dominant EU powers. The meetings, which first began in 2003, take place twice a year.
Energy, including the soaring prices of oil and gas, and global warming are high on the agenda for the meeting, that comes three weeks before France takes over the EU's six-month rotating presidency from Slovenia.
The meeting comes a day before US President George W Bush arrives for an EU-US summit in the Slovenian resort of Brdo, where Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia's growing assertiveness in Eastern Europe and divisions over visa-free travel are set to rank high.
The French EU presidency is expected to push through binding rules for the 27 member states to implement ambitious EU greenhouse gas emission targets.
At odds over CO2 levels in Europe
The two powers are divided over CO2 levels in the EU
France and Germany are in dispute over limits for the vehicle sector, with Germany pressing for its auto industry to be able to continue producing luxury vehicles with high fuel consumption and emissions.
Berlin opposes the plans as vehicles made by German firms like BMW, Daimler and Porsche tend to be larger, luxury vehicles with greater emissions. France backs the legislation as French carmakers such as Peugeot and Renault tend to build smaller cars that pollute less.
A German government spokesman said Friday that Berlin did not expect to resolve the issue at Monday's summit because negotiations are still going on.
The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, aims to force carmakers to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 120 grams a kilometer across the range they produce by 2012, putting German carmakers at a disadvantage to their French and Italian competitors making economy cars.
One of France's aims is to extend a defense and security pact agreed with Germany in 1988, when a German-French brigade was set up, to an EU-wide agreement.
Defense and immigration top Sarkozy's EU issues
Sarkozy recently announced France's priorities for its EU presidency putting the emphasis on the creation of a stronger immigration and European defense policy.
France's immigration policy colors Sarkozy's view for Europe
Sarkozy said he would focus on establishing a European accord on immigration and asylum as well as a defense policy with a role which would be different from NATO.
"We cannot have a common area of free movement of men and women and have 27 national policies on this issue," Sarkozy last week during his European tour before taking over the rotating presidency.
On the issue of establishing a European defense policy, Sarkozy said the European Union must be in a position to defend itself but said the bloc would not act as a threat to NATO.
"It is not a case nor will it ever be a case of competing with NATO," he said, adding, "We need both, a NATO and European defense that oppose each other makes no sense."
Turkey unlikely to enjoy much progress under French
Turkey is likely to see little progress during France's term
In reference to Europe's relations with aspiring member Turkey, Sarkozy said that while France supports a close association with the country, he remained wary of allowing a poor and predominantly Muslim nation into the EU.
"I am convinced that an association, as close as possible, is the best response for Europe and for Turkey. I know that others envisage a different response and I respect that," he said, adding, "I want to affirm here that during its presidency, France will behave as the loyal and impartial spokesman of the 27 member states."
In the interview, Merkel cited the Lisbon Treaty to reform EU decision-making and Sarkozy's plans for a Mediterranean Union to improve links between the EU and southern Mediterranean rim states as areas where Germany was willing to lend a hand.
The Lisbon Treaty has to be agreed by all EU member states, with Ireland the only member putting it to a referendum this week.
Germany was initially angered by the Mediterranean Union proposal because it excluded some EU members but managed to convince Sarkozy to open it up to all.
"We have managed to solve all the problems that have arisen and make progress," Merkel said. "The Mediterranean Union is a good example of how we have managed to make good use of the Franco-German motor in the interest of the EU."