PARIS — As Europe battles a financial crisis, President Nicolas Sarkozy has portrayed himself as a steady captain at the helm of the French ship, expertly navigating stormy seas.
But as France moves toward a presidential election campaign, some mutineers have arisen among the crew, challenging his cooperation with Germany and questioning whether it is wise to seek mandatory limits on budget deficits in the 27-nation European Union.
In interactive look at how the European Union in structured and how the new treaty would affect the member countries.
Sarkozy and his lieutenants have described the decision to work hand-in-hand with the rigorous Chancellor Angela Merkel as an often difficult mission but a recognition of reality. Germany is the E.U.’s biggest economy, they point out, adding that Merkel’s insistence on deficit controls is the only way to bring European debt levels down far enough to restore credibility in the markets.
Whatever the outcome of the French-German proposals put forward Monday — likely to become clear after an emergency E.U. summit Thursday — Sarkozy’s close coordination with Merkel has revealed that the ghosts of World War II are still alive in France. Indeed, several of Sarkozy’s political opponents have accused him of capitulating to an arrogant and resurgent German powerhouse.
Arnaud Montebourg, a rising star of the Socialist Party known for his nationalist views, accused Merkel of waging “Bismarck-style diplomacy” in browbeating Sarkozy during marathon meetings between French and German officials in recent weeks. Otto von Bismarck was a 19th-century German leader famed for using the country’s power ruthlessly to further its interests in an uncertain constellation of European alliances.
Going a step further, Jean-
Marie Le Guen, another Socialist member of Parliament, accused Sarkozy of acting like “Daladier at Munich.” Edouard Daladier was the French premier who in 1938 signed off on Adolf Hitler’s annexation of a part of Czechoslovakia, a concession widely considered to have emboldened the German dictator in his march toward war.
Although remarkable in a country where Franco-German friendship has become a talisman, both accusations were dismissed as rough campaigning as France gets ready for the vote in which Sarkozy is running for reelection against a Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande. Nevertheless, they provided fodder for Les Guignols, the puppets who parody French politicians on television and who this week imitated a shrill Merkel scolding Sarkozy for spending too much on cellphone calls.
Hollande dissociated himself from the most pointedly anti-
German comparisons. But he also described a situation in which Sarkozy seemed to be following along after Merkel, directly challenging the president’s self-
portrayal as a reliable leader.
In addition, Hollande criticized the agreement with Merkel as “an illusion,” saying that only financing by the European Central Bank could have an immediate effect on skeptical markets. “This is a long process,” he said in a radio interview Tuesday when asked about the proposed E.U. treaty changes. “And now they want it to calm down markets that work in real time.”