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Merkel sticking by Sarkozy

April 23, 2012

German and international leaders have begun responding to the first round vote in France, with Chancellor Merkel's office seeking to stick by Nicolas Sarkozy while also reaching out to Francois Hollande.

A February photo showing the heads of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy close-up, they are looking in different directions
Image: AP

Germany's leading politicians reacted Monday to the first round of voting in France's presidential election, in which Socialist Francois Hollande and incumbent conservative Nicolas Sarkozy progressed to the runoff vote.

The two biggest parties in Germany have taken up somewhat partisan positions, supporting ideologically similar candidates in the French fight.

"The German chancellor is continuing to support Sarkozy," Angela Merkel's deputy spokesman Georg Streiter said in Berlin, though he added that the pair - sometimes dubbed Merkozy - would not be appearing in tandem on the campaign trail. Streiter also said that Merkel would cooperate well with any elected candidate, because the friendship between the two countries "is completely independent from the actors involved."

Hollande beat Sarkozy by three percent of the vote in the opening round, with the two lead candidates comfortably ahead of the chasing pack, as was expected beforehand. Germany's Social Democrats (SDP) responded positively to the success of their Socialist "counterparts."

"The success of [Francois] Hollande is a signal - going beyond France - that the politics of Merkel and Sarkozy aren't the only solution after all," SDP leader Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of the pro-business Free Democrats, who has sought to take a more neutral stand throughout the French campaign, said he was happy about the candidates who had proceeded to the second round.

Hollande leads race for French presidency

Westerwelle said it was good "that the runoff vote will now take place between two democratic candidates who stand for Europe and for the Franco-German friendship," an apparent criticism of third-place far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

"Germany will seek quality, close cooperation with whichever candidate the French people elect," Westerwelle said.

Far-right grabs attention

Third-place Le Pen secured the highest percentage of the vote in National Front party history, though it was not enough to progress to the second round - a feat her father Jean-Marie managed in 2002. The sizeable quota of far-right support, however, raised eyebrows in much of Europe.

"That's a large number of supporters for Le Pen," Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindlegger told his EU counterparts at a meeting in Luxembourg. "It's food for thought for everyone."

Marine Le Pen gestures and looks skyward
She didn't make the runoff like her dad, but Marine Le Pen still raised some eyebrowsImage: dapd

His Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt said that he was "worried about this atmosphere that we can identify against open societies, against an open Europe."

Luxembourg's Socialist foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, attributed Le Pen's success - at least in part - to some of Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign policies and talking points.

"If it's being repeated every day that the Schengen accord (an open-border deal between many EU states) must be changed, that there must be a tougher immigration policy, when a special deal for France and so forth is being demanded, all that feeds the National Front machine," Asselborn said.

Sarkozy had apparently sought to court potential Le Pen voters in the run-up to the first round promising various rollbacks and reappraisals of existing EU agreements. After Sunday's vote the president said that it was not fair to criticize those in France who chose Le Pen.

"National Front voters must be respected, they've issued a vote of crisis, representing their concerns, their suffering and their fears about this new world that is in the process of forming," Sarkozy said, adding that's not cause to insult them. He said he knew and understood these concerns, saying they pertained to issues like border security, job opportunities, and safety.

msh/mz (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)