From the Guardian (October 17)
It is a measure of how bad things are on both sides of the Rhine when François Hollande goes public on his exasperation with Angela Merkel.
In his interview with the Guardian and other European newspapers, the French president delivered a catalogue of complaints about the German chancellor’s prescriptions for resolving the euro crisis.
There is nothing unusual about frictions and poor chemistry between French and German leaders, despite the entrenched, deeply embedded relationship that is much more “special” than fond British ideas of the transatlantic axis.
Merkel and Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, worked together, but were scathing about one another in private. Every Franco-German couple going back to Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle displayed similar symptoms of being caught in a love-hate affair. But they kept it private.
The usual pattern for these big EU summits is that Berlin and Paris get together on the eve of the meeting and deliver a common position that forms the basis for a summit deal.
Things could hardly be more different this time. The French leader has delivered a salvo of criticisms at the Germans just before the EU’s leaders gather in Brussels for the first time since June.
The French leader’s move is bold and all the more unexpected for being so public. It’s also risky. He clearly feels Merkel is not listening to him and other key crisis leaders, such as Mario Monti in Italy or Mariano Rajoy in Spain. He also seems to be blaming Berlin for 30 months of prevarication and dithering on the crisis, wasting a lot of time, and then disguising its reluctance to act by presenting grandiose ambitious schemes for the EU that would take a decade to realise.
These criticisms of Merkel are common currency in Brussels and the capitals of the EU. But they acquire a new weight when delivered in public from the Elysée Palace. There are many who will cheer, and not only in Athens, Madrid or Rome.
Recession is the bigger problem, not budget deficits and debt, Hollande contends. Enough austerity, it is killing rather than curing. German attacks on the European Central Bank because of its new interventionism are misplaced and wrong, the French leader charges. Germany, too, can help to rebalance the European economy by boosting domestic demand through pay rises and tax cuts, he adds.