What will Cameron and Merkel do if Sarkozy loses?

Nicolas Sarkozy’s counterparts in Europe’s "big three" have been involving themselves in his reelection bid to an unusual extent. Angela Merkel endorsed Sarkozy in late January and may even appear at his campaign events. David Cameron unambiguously gave his support to Sarkozy in an interview earlier this month, calling him ‘brave politician’ with ‘great leadership ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Sarkozy's counterparts in Europe's "big three" have been involving themselves in his reelection bid to an unusual extent. Angela Merkel endorsed Sarkozy in late January and may even appear at his campaign events. David Cameron unambiguously gave his support to Sarkozy in an interview earlier this month, calling him ‘brave politician’ with ‘great leadership qualities’.

Cross-border endorsements aren't unheard of in Europe, where parties are grouped into international ideological coalitions. But the degree to which Cameron and Merkel have made the preference for Sarkozy clear raises questions about whether they will be able to cooperate with Socialist Francois Hollande should he win. While Sarkozy is doing better in the polls, he's still essentially tied with him and trails badly in a likely second-round head-to-head matchup. 

So in the quite possible event that Hollande pulls it out, he's likely to remember comments like this

Nicolas Sarkozy’s counterparts in Europe’s "big three" have been involving themselves in his reelection bid to an unusual extent. Angela Merkel endorsed Sarkozy in late January and may even appear at his campaign events. David Cameron unambiguously gave his support to Sarkozy in an interview earlier this month, calling him ‘brave politician’ with ‘great leadership qualities’.

Cross-border endorsements aren’t unheard of in Europe, where parties are grouped into international ideological coalitions. But the degree to which Cameron and Merkel have made the preference for Sarkozy clear raises questions about whether they will be able to cooperate with Socialist Francois Hollande should he win. While Sarkozy is doing better in the polls, he’s still essentially tied with him and trails badly in a likely second-round head-to-head matchup. 

So in the quite possible event that Hollande pulls it out, he’s likely to remember comments like this

Merkel’s aides aren’t even trying to hide their dislike of Hollande. "The conflict between Sarkozy and Hollande is a clash of two fundamental concepts," says CDU General Secretary Gröhe. "Strengthening competitiveness or left-wing redistribution."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle seemed uneasy about the Merkel team’s strongly-stated preference, saying that "The German government isn’t a party in the French election campaign."

Hollande is currently in London, campaigning with the city’s sizable French population. Cameron declined to meet with him, and Hollande seems to have decided to use the president’s popularity among the Tories against him:

Today, Mr Hollande’s campaign manager made it clear he saw Mr Cameron’s support as a poisoned chalice for Mr Sarkozy. "Being the friend of the Conservatives, the friend of Thatherites and their heirs … is frankly pretty strange for the so-called ‘candidate of the people," said Pierre Moscovici.

I get why conservatives aren’t thrilled about the prospect of a French president who wants to slap a 75 percent tax on millionaires, but given the realities of European politics, they’re going to have to coordinate with him frequently. It might not be a terrible idea to extend an olive branch before he’s sitting across the table from them in Brussels.

As one Conservative British MP put it,  "Our political elite will have to rub shoulders with whoever wins, so we have to be very careful about interfering…. I don’t think we should be running our foreign policy like a scene from Love Actually with subtitles."

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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