The German Chancellor is not supporting anyone in the French presidential election – but Angela Merkel, the leader of the German Christian Democratic party, is throwing her weight behind Nicolas Sarkozy.
The subtle distinction emerged yesterday, when the so-called "Merkozy" twins appeared at a press conference in Paris. Later, Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy gave an unprecedented joint interview to French and German television channels.
Asked why she planned to campaign for the French President in the two round presidential election in April and May, Ms Merkel said that it was "normal" for her to support politicians from "friendly" parties in other countries. "I support Nicolas Sarkozy what ever he does, and on every level, because we belong to parties which are friends," she explained.
Earlier, her spokesman in Berlin had clarified the chancellor's position before she did. Following press criticism in Germany of her intended intervention in the French election, Ms Merkel's spokesman said that she was acting as head of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), not as head of the German government.
The confusion does not end there, however. President Nicolas Sarkozy has yet to declare that he will run for re-election on 22 April and 6 May. Last night's joint TV interview was interpreted, by both the French and German media, as Ms Merkel's first appearance in the Sarkozy campaign – even though the Sarkozy campaign has not yet officially started.
Creative confusion of this kind appears to be one way in which President Sarkozy hopes to reduce the opinion poll lead of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande. At yesterday's joint press conference with Ms Merkel, he said any future French government would be forced to respect the inter-governmental European treaty on fiscal discipline which will be signed by 25 EU countries next month.
Mr Hollande has promised to renegotiate the treaty to introduce new policies to encourage growth. Without mentioning the Socialist candidate's name, Mr Sarkozy said that this would be impossible. "That's democracy. That a question of honouring your word," he said, "(The treaty) is a commitment by the French state, not by one politician."
Some of Mr Sarkozy's supporters doubt whether this Europe-knows-best approach – or the intervention of Ms Merkel - will impress the French electorate. Although the German chancellor is personally popular in France, the idea of imposing German-led spending and tax policies on France is less so.
The German chancellor was in Paris for the annual "joint cabinet" meeting of the French and German governments. One of the issues discussed was the harmonisation of tax policies, starting with Mr Sarkozy's plan to raise VAT in France to reduce the pay-roll taxes on French agriculture and industry.