A cabal of conservative European leaders is deliberately shunning French Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande, according to a report published Monday in German weekly Der Spiegel that was promptly denied by the German government.
The magazine says that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who has openly supported incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy), Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, British Prime Minister David Cameron and their Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy have made an agreement not to meet Hollande in the run-up to May’s presidential election.
The German government was swift to deny Der Spiegel’s allegations on Sunday. But in an interview published the same day by German daily Die Welt, the country’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for an end to his country’s meddling in the French political process.
Urging German politicians to “show restraint,” he said that “there should be no doubt that Germany will work well with any government chosen by the French people.”
Hollande ‘less than impressed’
Hollande, who is leading Sarkozy in the polls, told France 3 television on Sunday that he was “less than impressed” by the Spiegel report, should it turn out to be true.
“It is up to the French people to decide their future,” he said. “Leaders of other European countries, for whom I have great respect, have no business weighing in on an election that is for the people of France to decide.”
According to Der Spiegel, the conservative European leaders are shunning Hollande because of his plans to renegotiate the treaty on tighter budget discipline for the euro zone, which was worked out to save the fragile monetary bloc from future debt crises.
Even the UK’s David Cameron – whose country did not sign the treaty – is accused of deliberately avoiding contact with Hollande.
Cameron pointedly refused to meet the Socialist presidential hopeful while he was visiting London last week to woo the British capital’s substantial French population.
Downing Street said it was “protocol” not to meet candidates during the election period.
However, the British prime minister was happy to give his full support to Sarkozy earlier in February in an interview with right-leaning Le Figaro, in which he said Sarkozy was “a brave politician” with “great leadership qualities”.
‘Lack of credibility’
On Sunday Sarkozy’s team hit back at Hollande, saying that any effort to shun him was not down to a back-room deal – but was because he lacked credibility as a candidate in the eyes of world leaders.
Sarkozy’s spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told Canal+ television on Sunday that any unwillingness among leaders to meet him was down to his own hostility towards them.
She said: “He complains that Angela Merkel doesn’t want to speak with him. Of course she won’t want to speak with him after he has gone to Germany and called for her to be voted out of power.”
Kosciusko-Morizet, who is known in France as “NKM”, claimed Hollande’s ostracism was a direct result of him “behaving like a playground bully, saying ‘if I’m elected I will seek to renegotiate the treaty to save the euro zone that took you weeks to agree’”.