Merkel denies any rift with French leader

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel may not have a "bosom friendship" with her French counterpart, she said on Thursday, but her working relationship with François Hollande was strong and crucial for Europe.

With her foreign minister saying Germany must not act with "Teutonic arrogance" towards its eurozone neighbours, Merkel played down criticism she has received from France's ruling Socialists.

"Living in an open society we must have nuances between conflict and bosom friendship. It seems there is nothing between the two – but the reality is different," Merkel told a conference on Europe in Berlin on Thursday (16 May).

Hollande's party last month called Merkel's leadership in the eurozone crisis "self-centred" in a text – later amended – which revealed the depth of hostility in France provoked by her drive for fiscal austerity.

Germany's ruling conservatives have offered steady criticisms of Hollande's inability to reduce the public deficit.

No more 'Merkozy'

But Merkel told an audience of politicians and diplomats she had "a good personal relationship" with Hollande and that relations between Europe's two biggest economies "stand on very strong foundations".

Her close partnership with Hollande's conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, which led to the pair being dubbed "Merkozy", was a hard act to follow.

But Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who until recently ran summits of the 17 eurozone states, said media reports about hostile body language between Merkel and Hollande were "laughable".

One year into his term, Hollande's approval ratings are among the worst for a post-World War II leader, while Merkel polls around 60% and is likely to win a third term in a September election.

While Merkel may not sympathise with his Socialist politics, she knows that the stability of Germany and the eurozone depends on Hollande's success.

Merkel said that she and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble were both "very optimistic" that France would strike the right balance between consolidating its budget and encouraging growth.

"We will not criticise France openly," Schäuble told the conference. "We know that France can do and does do many things better than Germany."

Germany had to avoid acting like a "know-it-all" when giving France advice, he said. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany must beware of acting with "Teutonic arrogance".

France's new centre-left government started work in May last year with pledges to combat excessive austerity but better manage public finances.

In the meantime, French-German relations have appeared strained on several occasions, including at a June 2012 EU summit expected to produce a “calendar for more EU integration” and measures on fiscal discipline and growth.

Other areas where Franco-German division have been apparent include plans for an EU banking union and eurobonds.

  • 22 May: EU energy summit in Brussels
  • 22 Sept.: German national elections

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