BERLIN, Apr 29 – Germany on Monday played down criticism by France’s ruling Socialists of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence on austerity, and said it saw cooperation with Paris as “essential”.
“German-French collaboration is, for us, essential. It comprises a very broad line-up of topics. For us it is of enormous importance,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference when asked about the remarks.
Seibert pointed out that the comments were made in a draft text for the Socialists’ party conference, adding: “As spokesman for the government, I don’t comment on statements by parties in other countries.”
“For us it’s not the parties that count, for us government action counts. The direct cooperation with the French president, with Prime Minister (Jean-Marc) Ayrault, with the ministers counts,” he said.
“That looks quite different,” he added.
Germany and France may have different views on individual issues but “that is not so new”, Seibert said, stressing the EU’s two biggest economies were “completely different countries” with their own economic and political landscapes.
“But that hasn’t in recent decades and won’t in the future, prevent a close, friendly cooperation which is good for Germany, good for France and good for Europe,” he added.
“Without this close German-French understanding there can hardly be progress in Europe. One has to know that and the chancellor certainly knows that,” Seibert said.
He added that Germany and France were currently working on a joint proposal which could be presented to their European partners ahead of a June summit but he gave no further details.
A spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry also stressed that Franco-German relations were “unique” for their closeness.
However the deputy chairman of Merkel’s conservatives in the Bundestag lower house of parliament lashed out at the French Socialists’ statement as “unusual” and “disproportionate”.
Andreas Schockenhoff said the remarks mostly showed “the considerable desperation” of the Socialists that, a year after winning power, they had found “no convincing answers” to the country’s economic and fiscal problems.
“The left-wing government cannot deflect from the fact that France needs far-reaching structural reforms,” he said in a written statement.
Germany’s Handelsblatt business daily quipped Monday that France’s Socialists had just discovered that “Germany is to blame for everything”.
“The panic and quarrelling of the Socialists in the face of their decline is so great that they can only agree on the German chancellor being the common enemy,” it said.
In a draft document on Europe leaked on Friday, President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party pilloried Merkel for being “selfish” in her drive for eurozone austerity to fight Europe’s debt crisis.
It also accused conservative Merkel, who faces elections on September 22, of being obsessed with “Berlin’s trade balance and her electoral future”.
Senior French ministers warned Monday against picking a fight with Germany.
“Debate yes, pugilism no. It is not normal to call into question such or such a leader,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Europe 1 radio.
Socialist officials insisted the leaked document was in no way final and did not represent the party’s official view.
In January France and Germany marked 50 years since a treaty sealing their post-war reconciliation with a summit in Berlin as well as a joint session of both countries’ cabinets and a debate in the Reichstag with nearly 400 French lawmakers present.