By Ray Fleming

ANGELA Merkel's announcement yesterday that she will “actively support” Nicholas Sarkozy in his bid for a second term as President of France in the coming April/May elections overlooked one important point --Sarkozy has not yet officially declared his intention to stand. Leaving that formality on one side, the likelihood of this unprecedented cross-border electoral alliance raises many questions. Sarkozy is trailing in the polls and will need all the help he can get but will the French people welcome Merkel's intervention?

How far are French and German domestic policies aligned or will Merkel confine herself to EU and international matters? What will happen to French-German relations if Sarkozy is defeated by the old-style Socialist Francois Hollande who is currently leading him by a wide margin in the opinion polls? How will this gesture affect Merkel's own campaign for her party's re-election in 2013. Beyond such questions there is the much wider consideration of the meaning of Merkel's move in European politics. She has made no secret of her belief that the EU needs a strong centre led by France and Germany. If Sarkozy with her help were to win this year and if she wins in 2013, would we see the beginning of a permanent alliance that would have profound implications within the EU and more widely? Once again, though, Britain is on the sidelines.

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