April 16 - The debt crisis brought Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy into close partnership but the euro zone's two largest economies are experiencing very differing fortunes and the looming French election has rarely been watched so closely in Germany. Joanna Partridge reports.
You could call them the odd couple. On the face of it, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel don't have much in common. But the leaders of the euro zone's two largest economies grew close as they tackled the debt crisis. The economy remains the main issue in the French presidential election, despite the attacks in Toulouse by a gunman inspired by Al Qaeda. When Sarkozy began fighting for re-election, Merkel broke with custom to publicly support him - while shunning his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. But the French President changed his strategy, and decided not to have Merkel campaign with him. Claire Demesmay from the German Council on Foreign Relations says his ties with the German leader weren't playing well with French voters. (SOUNDBITE) (French) DR. CLAIRE DEMESMAY, HEAD OF THE FRANCO-GERMAN RELATIONS PROGRAMME AT THE GERMAN COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, SAYING: "For the French population, and also for the opposition, this was seen as going too far. Not co-operation with Germany as it stands, because that is well-supported by French voters, but an alignment with Germany, and acceptance of strict austerity policies, without being compensated socially or by investments." PTC The French embassy occupies a symbolic position in the heart of Berlin, just as France and Germany have been at the centre of Europe's attempts to resolve the euro zone debt crisis. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel's promotion of the Franco German partnership means the French presidential election is being closely watched in Berlin. (SOUNDBITE) (German) ERNST WILLE, PASSERBY, SAYING: "I am interested in politics in general and in the French election, as I think it's quite significant, especially for us Germans." (SOUNDBITE) (German) ANNE-RUTH MUELLER, PASSERBY, SAYING: "Angela Merkel has done a lot with President Sarkozy on a European level and I think it will be different if someone else is there." The bilingual French-German magazine ParisBerlin recently asked 1000 people from each country what they think of their neighbours. Editor Cecile Calla says while the poll showed both countries believe they need to work together, there were some surprises. (SOUNDBITE) (French) CECILE CALLA, EDITOR IN CHIEF OF THE GERMAN OFFICE OF PARISBERLIN MAGAZINE, SAYING: "The French trust German politicians more than their own. Conversely, the Germans don't have as much confidence in the French politicians, they prefer their politicians to make the decisions." Francois Hollande is still expected to win the run-off between the top two candidates on the 6 May. And the tone in Berlin has shifted in recent weeks. There are reports Merkel's advisers are quietly preparing for how to do business with the Socialist - and what will happen if Merkozy becomes Merkollande. Joanna Partridge, Reuters