German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her weight behind French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his tough re-election battle on Monday, saying the two right-wingers were from the same "political family".

"/> German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her weight behind French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his tough re-election battle on Monday, saying the two right-wingers were from the same "political family".

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Merkel backs Sarkozy in tough re-election battle

German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her weight behind French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his tough re-election battle on Monday, saying the two right-wingers were from the same "political family".

Merkel backs Sarkozy in tough re-election battle
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Despite accusations in both countries of interference, Merkel used a visit to Paris for a joint Franco-German cabinet session to make clear her support for Sarkozy, who has increasingly cited Germany as a model for France.

“We belong to the same political family. He supported me and it is natural that I support him in his campaign,” Merkel said during a joint television interview with Sarkozy to be broadcast later on French and German television.

Saying the two had worked together in a “friendly atmosphere” on the eurozone debt crisis, Merkel said they had a strong personal relationship.

Sarkozy said he was pleased to have won her support.

“The French people will decide themselves, like Germans decide, freely,” he said in the interview, but added: “When someone for whom you have affection and whom you admire says ‘I support your actions’, that pleases me.”

At a press conference after the cabinet session, Merkel dismissed criticism of her support for Sarkozy, saying: “It is normal that we support parties that are friends.”

Merkel recalled that Sarkozy had supported her in 2009 during her own election campaign, and said the French leader’s Socialist opponent François Hollande had recently come to Germany to address the opposition SPD.

Sarkozy thanked Merkel for her “friendship and trust” and — without citing him by name — slammed Hollande’s plan to renegotiate a eurozone fiscal compact seen by Berlin and Paris as a solution to the eurozone debt crisis.

He also denounced critics, in particular from the left, who have slammed Sarkozy for taking inspiration from the German model in efforts to reform France’s faltering economy.

“We are not jealous of them (Germany), we want to draw inspiration from them,” Sarkozy said, warning his opponents against “playing with feelings that remind us of periods that we do not want to see again.”

France and Germany were once seen as the twin motors of the European Union, but Paris is now clearly the junior partner, its economy lagging behind by any measure, and Sarkozy has turned to Berlin for ideas.

Sarkozy trails Hollande in opinion polls and Merkel fears that a new left-wing French administration will diverge from her austerity plans.

Speaking to reporters in Dijon, Hollande said “it says a lot about (Sarkozy’s) situation” that he was seeking Merkel’s support.

“For me the only test is the French people…. I don’t need the support of anyone but the votes of the French people,” he said, adding that Merkel would face a “tough task” in winning support for Sarkozy.

Sarkozy, still smarting from France’s loss of its AAA debt rating, cites Germany’s success almost daily to justify his own policies, drawing inspiration from both Merkel and her centre-left predecessor Gerhard Schroeder.

In Berlin, Merkel’s spokesman Georg Streiter said her active support for Sarkozy’s re-election campaign was a “personal” engagement as leader of Germany’s centre-right CDU party and not as the nation’s chancellor.

According to CDU general secretary Hermann Groehe, Merkel plans to support Sarkozy at campaign rallies ahead of France’s two-round presidential election, with a first round on April 22nd and a run-off on May 6th.

Sabine von Oppeln, a Berlin-based expert on Franco-German relations, said Merkel’s backing of Sarkozy was motivated by her efforts to reform Europe.

“With the euro crisis, she found in Sarkozy a partner who has largely supported her or at least not worked against her,” she said.

“There were numerous tensions between Merkel and Sarkozy in the past but today she is making a tactical calculation based on the fact that the two governments need Europe.”

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung meanwhile wrote that Sarkozy had “latched his destiny to that of ‘dear Angela’ and the ‘German model’.”

“The time is long gone when he would, in private, call the chancellor ‘fatso’ and the Germans ‘the Boche’,” it wrote.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson

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