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As Sarkozy seeks new term, French are wary of 'Merkozy' (+video)

An embattled French President Nicolas Sarkozy is touting his strong ties with powerful German chancellor Angela Merkel as he prepares to announce his bid for a second term today. 

By Staff writer / February 15, 2012

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (l.) welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a French- German cabinet meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris in early February.

Michel Euler/AP

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Paris

Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to officially strap on his political battle gear today in an uphill bid for reelection.

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An economic crisis and European leaders are toppling around him, and France's Triple A rating has also taken a tumble. Add to that Sarkozy's deep unpopularity, and the French president will have to use his crisis smarts as a weapon to convince his countrymen that he should return as its leader for five more years.

If the world of Europe is turning upside down, he's the "captain in the storm," the guy with experience, the comeback kid, the toughest hombre on the block.  

And he is convinced that Europe's most dominant leader, German chancellor Angela Merkel, can help make his case.

Strong French and German relations have long been the core of postwar Europe, driving greater unity and decades of peace and prosperity.

Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy are hoping to polish that ideal and present a united front in support of the German model of European recovery.

The eurozone crisis has soured Europe's mood sharply, bringing down five governments. On top of that, Sarkozy's style so offends many French that one joke here has it that a third of them wouldn't vote for him if he were running against the shipwrecked Costa Concordia's captain.

Ms. Merkel's decision to stump for Sarkozy would have been unthinkable a few years ago, and is seen in Paris as alternately surreal, amazing, and baffling. Sarkozy wants it seen as a reassurance to the French of their importance to Europe – and his role in keeping it that way.

The Parisian satirical weekly Canard Enchaine ran a cartoon on Feb. 8 of Merkel saying to Sarkozy, "Are you sure? I'm not very popular in France." To which Sarkozy retorts, "Neither am I."

Merkel and Sarkozy have vastly different styles and were originally dubbed "the odd couple" after Sarkozy's election in 2007. But as their views on the eurozone converged in the past two years, they've instead become known as "Merkozy."

Postwar France, as Harvard University professor Stanley Hoffmann has argued, is obsessed with two things: fear of decline and fear of Germany. Sarkozy's enlistment of Merkel addresses both.

He wants France, which registered a record €70 billion ($100 billion) trade deficit in 2011, to be more like Germany, which generated a €156 billion ($207 billion) surplus last year. Sarkozy used to see Britain under former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a model, but he now talks about a German-style value-added tax and constitutional debt limits. In a national TV appearance on Feb. 6, he spent an hour extolling German virtues.

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