Cameron, Merkel Stand By Their Man Sarkozy

The British and German leaders seem to be hoping their French counterpart will win reelection.

British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy in London, June 18, 2010
British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy in London, June 18, 2010 (Elysée)

Britain’s and Germany’s leaders seem anxious for their French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, to win reelection in April and May. Despite poll numbers that suggest a crushing defeat for the incumbent French president in the upcoming election, David Cameron and Angela Merkel are standing by their man.

The German chancellor, who, like Cameron, is a conservative and ideologically aligned to Sarkozy, has been explicit about whom she would vote for. “I support Nicolas Sarkozy in every manner because we belong to friendly parties,” she told journalists in Paris earlier this month. In a television interview, the Frenchman said to be “pleased” with Merkel’s support.

Sarkozy’s main rival, the Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, may be leading in the polls but Merkel fears that he will renege on the conditions of a fiscal pact that was negotiated between 25 of the European Union’s member states in January — an agreement which Britain was notably absent from, raising tension between London and Paris if not Cameron and Sarkozy personally.

Hollande has promised to reduce deficit spending but laid out few specific policy proposals. He does seek to increase funding for education and social security programs and has vowed to reduce the pension age from 62 to sixty years of age. Sarkozy, by contrast, has praised the German model of lower taxes, lower wages and a less generous welfare regime. He, too, is struggling to rein in spending though. According to recent projections, France is unlikely to meet its deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2013.

Hollande would wave the rules entirely and not allow “the world of finance,” which he described as his enemy last month, to dictate French public policy.

David Cameron’s support for the French president on Friday was more extraordinary than Merkel’s endorsement given their diplomat row in December when France expressed exasperation with Britain’s rejection of a plan for European fiscal integration. The two nations have announced closer defense cooperation since Cameron became prime minister in 2010 and together pushed for a NATO intervention in Libya.

In Paris, Cameron said the two leaders had an “incredibly strong relationship based on shared interests” and Sarkozy insisted that there was “never personal opposition” between them. He said Cameron was a “very brave man” for pursuing the Libyan intervention.

Although Cameron said he wished Sarkozy well “in the battles ahead,” he wondered whether campaigning for the Frenchman was a good idea. “I’m not sure that if I took part in his campaign it would have the effect my friend here wants,” he said.

He can use all the help he can get. Despite formally announcing his candidacy on Wednesday, Sarkozy trails by a twelve point margin if pitted against Hollande in a second round of voting. Neither candidate would secure an outright majority in the first round which is scheduled for April 22.

Sarkozy is well ahead of his right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen who leads the Front national and would win 15 percent of the votes compared to 26 for the conservative in the first round. In the May 6 runoff, Sarkozy would win 44 percent according to the latest survey.