France and Germany

Paris warns Berlin: ‘You’re helping Le Pen’

Paris warns Berlin: 'You're helping Le Pen'
Is Germany's frustration at France's lack of reforms aiding Le Pen and her anti-EU party. Photo: AFP
The constant barrage of criticism towards France’s lifeless economy from across the Rhine has riled the French finance minister, who has accused Berlin of feeding the populist, anti-EU sentiment that the far-right National Front thrives on.

It was Chancellor Angela Merkel of all people who was the latest to fire a barb in the direction of France.

The longstanding German leader said Paris had not done enough to reform its economy in order to bring down its crippling public deficit.

Her comments were the straw that broke the camel’s back for France's frustrated finance minister Michel Sapin, who told the UK’s Financial Times on Tuesday that German politicians “need to choose the right words” when criticising France.

Without mentioning Merkel’s name Sapin said he was concerned by “certain extreme comments from Germany” and demanded political parties in Germany to counter “outdated” stereotypes about France.

“I think people have to be careful from the outside on how they express views on France,” Sapin told the FT.

“We really need to be careful to respect each other, and to respect each others’ history, national identity and points of sensitivity, because otherwise it will help extremist parties grow,” Sapin added.

The extremist party he was referring to is of course the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen who topped the polls in the European elections in May and is expected to make it through to a run-off vote in the 2017 presidential election.

Sapin’s comments reflect a growing sense of frustration in France towards Berlin and Brussels and the pressure they are putting on France to make further painful austerity cuts.

He had already insisted that reforms are being implemented for France’s benefit “and not to please this or that European politician”.

He pointed out that Germany had issues of its own.

“The number of German nationals is falling every year, which is why in ten or 20 years we in France , will be in a better position,” he said.

Opinion: Merkel now needs to meet Hollande halfway

But his choice of words were nothing as hostile as those of Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left firebrand who in response to the German chancellor’s comments simply said: “Shut it! Frau Merkel”.

Relations could sour even further in the coming months with the European Commission having set itself a deadline of March before it passes a verdict on the budgets of France, Italy and Belgium.

France recently announced efforts to shave a further €3.6 billion ($4.5 billion) off the country's deficit on top of a €21 billion cost-cutting plan, but Paris will still miss European Union deficit targets.

However finance Minister Sapin is convinced all will be well.

In a reference to the Bible while speaking in Dublin at the weekend Sapin said: "The commission, as Saint Thomas, wants to see in order to believe. So at the end of this year, the commission will see and, as Saint Thomas, the commission will believe."

If he is proved wrong we can expect more tension between Paris and Berlin and the war of words across the Rhine to be further inflamed. 

Not that Marine Le Pen will mind any of that.

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