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Published on May 3rd, 2012 | by Katharina Obermeier
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566" caption="© Novopress"][/caption]   During the run-up to the second round of the French presidential election, the international press has had fun coming up with terms to replace the infamous “Merkozy” – the mostly close and cooperative relationship between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Many political commenters are anticipating that Sunday’s election results will end the Merkozy era and usher in “Merllande” – a new relationship between Merkel and François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency. The development of this terminology illustrates the importance – or at least the perceived importance – of France’s next leader in the European context. Merkel and Sarkozy are widely viewed as the architects of the response to the eurozone crisis, and the Franco-German cooperation as a necessary foundation for moving ambitious projects – such as the fiscal compact – forward at an EU level.  As they both belong to conservative parties, they have tended to agree on core economic issues such as fiscal discipline, which has substantially shaped the EU’s crisis management. The fear among commenters is that a victory for Hollande in the presidential election would break up this alliance and create further high-level political tensions within the eurozone that would damage its ability to cope with the crisis. And yet, Sarkozy’s rhetoric of late has not exactly been helpful for the credibility of the eurozone or the EU itself. Pronouncing that there are “too many foreigners in France” (a curious statement for the son of a Hungarian immigrant), the President has proposed to halve the number of immigrants arriving in France and re-establish national border controls to reduce illegal immigration. While this may appear to be part of a purely domestic debate, the EU’s open-border policy within the Schengen area is one of its most fundamental, and most recognisable, characteristics, and any member state dispensing with it automatically undermines a very powerful symbol of EU leaders’ ability to cooperate with one another. Interestingly, this move by Sarkozy has been backed by the Merkel administration, eager to support the incumbent President in his re-election campaign. This reaction on the German side is particularly bizarre considering the fact that Denmark was roundly criticised by European leaders when it briefly attempted to implement a similar policy at its national borders. While this obvious lack of commitment to the ideals of the eurozone is worrying, Sarkozy is lagging behind in the polls, making Hollande the more likely candidate to win. Like Sarkozy, Hollande has also been making statements on issues of great importance to the EU. His campaign promises, however, are more directly relevant to the eurozone crisis. He considers himself “a European”, but has been critical of many EU policies, and has even threatened to demand that the fiscal compact, a treaty on fiscal discipline signed by 25 EU governments, be re-written. This move would upset the delicate balance in the eurozone built on a willingness on the part of countries like Germany to continue contributing funds to bail-outs as long as they receive some kind of guarantee of fiscal discipline on the part of the recipients. A confrontation and possible stalemate between France and Germany on this issue would send signals of instability to international markets, which would in turn put additional pressure on the most vulnerable member states of the EU – something they can ill afford at the moment. Fortunately, Hollande has since retreated somewhat from this position, positing instead that additional paragraphs on supporting economic growth should be added onto the otherwise unaltered fiscal compact. These concessions suggest a certain degree of willingness to compromise with regard to policy-making at a European level, which is sorely needed at a time when EU leaders must work together to overcome the crisis. Maybe Merllande could find a way to work together after all.

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Merkozy, Schengen and the Fiscal Compact: What the French Election Means for the EU

© Novopress

 

During the run-up to the second round of the French presidential election, the international press has had fun coming up with terms to replace the infamous “Merkozy” – the mostly close and cooperative relationship between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Many political commenters are anticipating that Sunday’s election results will end the Merkozy era and usher in “Merllande” – a new relationship between Merkel and François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency.

The development of this terminology illustrates the importance – or at least the perceived importance – of France’s next leader in the European context. Merkel and Sarkozy are widely viewed as the architects of the response to the eurozone crisis, and the Franco-German cooperation as a necessary foundation for moving ambitious projects – such as the fiscal compact – forward at an EU level.  As they both belong to conservative parties, they have tended to agree on core economic issues such as fiscal discipline, which has substantially shaped the EU’s crisis management. The fear among commenters is that a victory for Hollande in the presidential election would break up this alliance and create further high-level political tensions within the eurozone that would damage its ability to cope with the crisis.

And yet, Sarkozy’s rhetoric of late has not exactly been helpful for the credibility of the eurozone or the EU itself. Pronouncing that there are “too many foreigners in France” (a curious statement for the son of a Hungarian immigrant), the President has proposed to halve the number of immigrants arriving in France and re-establish national border controls to reduce illegal immigration. While this may appear to be part of a purely domestic debate, the EU’s open-border policy within the Schengen area is one of its most fundamental, and most recognisable, characteristics, and any member state dispensing with it automatically undermines a very powerful symbol of EU leaders’ ability to cooperate with one another. Interestingly, this move by Sarkozy has been backed by the Merkel administration, eager to support the incumbent President in his re-election campaign. This reaction on the German side is particularly bizarre considering the fact that Denmark was roundly criticised by European leaders when it briefly attempted to implement a similar policy at its national borders.

While this obvious lack of commitment to the ideals of the eurozone is worrying, Sarkozy is lagging behind in the polls, making Hollande the more likely candidate to win. Like Sarkozy, Hollande has also been making statements on issues of great importance to the EU. His campaign promises, however, are more directly relevant to the eurozone crisis. He considers himself “a European”, but has been critical of many EU policies, and has even threatened to demand that the fiscal compact, a treaty on fiscal discipline signed by 25 EU governments, be re-written. This move would upset the delicate balance in the eurozone built on a willingness on the part of countries like Germany to continue contributing funds to bail-outs as long as they receive some kind of guarantee of fiscal discipline on the part of the recipients. A confrontation and possible stalemate between France and Germany on this issue would send signals of instability to international markets, which would in turn put additional pressure on the most vulnerable member states of the EU – something they can ill afford at the moment.

Fortunately, Hollande has since retreated somewhat from this position, positing instead that additional paragraphs on supporting economic growth should be added onto the otherwise unaltered fiscal compact. These concessions suggest a certain degree of willingness to compromise with regard to policy-making at a European level, which is sorely needed at a time when EU leaders must work together to overcome the crisis. Maybe Merllande could find a way to work together after all.

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About the Author

Katharina Obermeier

Katharina considers herself a German-Canadian hybrid. She grew up in Germany and completed her BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Politics, especially in relation to concepts of nationality, have always fascinated her, and she is particularly interested in international political economy. During her studies, she was an avid participant at Model United Nations conferences, and helped welcome international exchange students to her university. She is currently completing an internship at a Brussels-based trade association and hopes to work in European affairs in the future. In her political writing, Katharina marries social democratic principles with a keen interest in the European Union and its implications for European politics and identity. She writes to counteract simplistic ideas about politics and economics, continuously attempting to expose the nuances and complexities involved in these subjects.



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