Is Europe getting fed up with Merkozy — as the cosy duo of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come to be known?
That was the distinct impression in the Italian media on the weekend. On Friday night, Sarkozy called the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, with the suggestion that he and Merkel would travel to Italy to support the new Italian leader, Mario Monti.
Sarkozy stressed that it was important to have a stable Italian government, and he personally offered to hold discussions with the leaders of Italy’s fractious political parties to ensure that Monti had a sufficient parliamentary majority.
But the French leader’s offer of help received a very frosty reception. In a debate over the country’s new austerity measures in the Italian Parliament on the weekend, one Italian deputy attacked the Franco-German duo, claiming that it was getting ready to “seize power”.
The Italian press was also offended. “What a humiliation to have to take orders from Sarko,” said Il Giornale, an Italian newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family. “Sarkozy, please, stay at home,” cried the Corriere della Sera, which also referred to the “(unfounded) superiority complex” of the French leader.
The new Italian leader faces the arduous challenge of pushing through key austerity measures and reforms that have been largely dictated by the Franco-German duo. Italians are bristling that country’s reform efforts are now being closely supervised by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.
But Italy isn’t the only country being closely monitored by Merkozy.
On Saturday, the duo spoke to the new Greek Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos, telling him that the situation was urgent and that Greece had to honour the commitments it had made. They warned him that Greece could not expect to receive its next €8 billion ($US11 billion) payment of aid money unless the country took some decisive steps towards implementing its austerity program. Inspectors from the IMF, the European Union and the ECB are expected to return to Athens this week.
Of course, Paris and Berlin argue that they have no choice but to intervene in the domestic politics of debt-laden eurozone countries. They believe that the only way to stop the relentless debt crisis from escalating is to ensure that debt-laden countries introduce unpopular policies to shave their gaping budget deficits and boost their flagging productivity.
What’s more, they say, there simply isn’t time to consult other eurozone countries in the hope of forging a consensus. At the same time, many of the continent’s institutions have been sidelined, with Merkozy increasingly making all the important decisions. Even the fiercely independent European Central Bank is fighting a furious battle to retain its independence from Paris and Berlin.
Many fear that the growing dominance of Paris and Berlin will further weaken popular confidence in the eurozone, and foster the rise of nationalism. Europeans were prepared to embrace the idea of the eurozone when it delivered economic prosperity. But will the eurozone survive as debt-laden peripheral countries are plunged into prolonged recessions, while resentment against Merkozy festers?
*This article was originally published at Business Spectator