A draft resolution in the ruling French Socialist leaked over the weekend has revealed deep hostility towards German-led austerity policies in the European Union. The draft text has since been amended but the episode exposes a deep ideological fracture between the eurozone’s two largest economies.
The draft resolution, to be presented at a June party brainstorming conference on Europe, had described the German leader as "self-centered" and said her austerity policies were hurting Europe.
The document was prepared by Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, an elected Paris MP and deputy-chairman of the Party of European Socialists (PES).
It said the European project was now “scarred by an alliance of convenience between the Thatcherite accents of the current British Prime Minister […] and the selfish intransigence of Chancellor Merkel who thinks of nothing else but the savings of German depositors, the trade balance recorded in Berlin and her electoral future."
The tone of the initial document added to growing criticism of Berlin from France after Socialist National Assembly speaker Claude Bartolone this week raised the prospect of a "confrontation" with Merkel.
‘Stigmatising language’ removed
But this "stigmatising language used towards Angela Merkel" would now be removed, Cambadelis wrote on his blog after the text ignited controversy over the weekend.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stepped in on Saturday to stress the importance of the Franco-German dialogue and praised the friendship between Paris and Berlin, which he said was indispensable to the European project and economic recovery.
"We will not solve Europe's problems without an intense and sincere dialogue between France and Germany," Ayrault, a former German teacher, said in tweets posted in both French and German.
Senior opposition politician and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé told Le Monde newspaper he thought that trust between France and Germany had been eroded by the affair, and said that France had lost the credibility needed for a tough dialogue with Berlin.
"France is totally isolated," he said.
In its first reaction to the comments on Merkel, Berlin played down any tension between the two countries.
"We work very well together. We don't have the feeling that there is a change in policy," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told Le Monde.
‘Confrontation’ with Merkel
Despite the soothing language and the removal of direct references to Merkel, the French Socialist Party’s amended draft resolution still maintains strong criticism of the German-led austerity policies.
A source in President Francois Hollande's office said on Friday that the document represented only the party's view, but he did not dispute its central message.
"There is a line in the text saying the friendship between France and Germany does not only mean Mrs Merkel's policies," the source said. "Friendship lets us criticise her policies, that's what one needs to understand from this document".
And Cambadelis, though softening his tone, stressed the Socialist Party’s alternative to “Europe’s right-wing”, denouncing on his blog what he described as “a certain French hypocrisy”.
“Everybody knows that Europe is suffering from a right-wing majority” Cambadelis wrote, noting that even the Conservatives in Spain, Italy and The Netherlands were “contesting this orientation”, with the austerity drive now even questioned by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
“Everybody knows that the strong euro is ruining all efforts to increase competitiveness, and that the German export-led and low-labour cost model is not applicable in all countries in Europe,” Cambadelis blogged on Sunday (28 April).
“Everybody knows that the US administration, through the mouth of Mr Kerry, has asked for a German recovery [plan]. Everybody knows that the [Party of European Socialists], has unanimously demanded a break with this policy.”
“Everybody knows that it is the refusal to politicise European integration which is leading to national conflicts”.
Hollande was critical of Merkel's insistence on budget consolidation while he was running for president last year, but has adopted a more conciliatory tone since becoming president.
He often characterises France's ties with the EU paymaster Germany as being defined by "friendly tension" between equal partners. But some Socialists, including Bartolone, think this friendliness overstated.
Hollande must rely on a solid Socialist majority in parliament to pass structural reforms this year, including overhauls of the jobless and pension systems. But a small camp of dissidents is growing, threatening his Senate majority.
The left-wing of the party accepted the idea of a single text to be presented at a meeting of European socialists in late June, but several disagreements remained, Cambadelis said, without detailing them.
"The battle for an alternative majority to the governing right-wing in Europe has begun," he said, putting his hopes into the next European elections in May 2014.
The Lisbon Treaty, he said, opens a possibility for the next President of the European Commission to be chosen from within the European Parliament’s majority party.
“This will give this election both a continental dimension and a policy-setting direction for Europe.”