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Frosty Bilateral Relations

DW staff / DPA (nda)December 6, 2007

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were to meet later Thursday in Paris with relations between Paris and Berlin on the frosty side after a series of differences of opinion.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin
Sarkozy and Merkel take shelter from an inclement climate of their own makingImage: AP

The latest bone of contention was Sarkozy's continued push for the creation of a Mediterranean Union involving European and African nations along the Mediterranean rim, which the French president again promoted during his visit to Algeria this week.

Merkel reacted by suggesting that such an affiliation of nations could lead to "a corrosion of the EU in its core area" and "could release explosive powers in the EU."

Such a frankly undiplomatic reaction was unusual under the circumstances, and suggested that Merkel may have reached a point in her relationship with the French president where she felt it necessary to go public with her discontent.

Merkel unhappy with Sarkozy's tactics

Merkel and Sarkozy with school children at an symposium on integration in Berlin
Image: AP

For relations between the two leaders had already begun to sour well before this disagreement, due in no small part to Sarkozy's propensity for unilateral action and self-promotion.

This began as early as the so-called EU mini-treaty, on which Merkel - as head of the Union when Germany held the rotating EU presidency - had been working for months before Sarkozy renamed it and claimed it as his own.

Later, the French president ruffled German -- and European -- feathers when he sent his wife Cecilia to Libya to negotiate the freedom of Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for allegedly infecting children with AIDS.

The problem was that Brussels had been negotiating their freedom for a long time, particularly under German EU presidency, and had apparently been close to a resolution of the crisis.

The subsequent agreement in which France is to supply Libya with a nuclear reactor for the desalination of sea water sparked criticism from both parties in Germany's ruling coalition, although government sources claimed it had not caused a rift in bilateral relations.

Putin call highlights divisions

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy
Sarkozy strayed from the EU line on the Russian electionsImage: AP

Finally, the recent election triumph of Russian President Vladimir Putin exposed deep rifts in the policies of the two neighbours towards Russia.

While the German government called the elections to the Russian Duma "neither fair, equal nor democratic," Sarkozy was one of the rare world leaders to offer the Russian president his unqualified congratulations.

Thursday evening's summit will be primarily devoted to European issues, but the two leaders may use it to ease some of the tension that has begun to afflict relations since Sarkozy became French president less than eight months ago.