During the financial crisis of 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Nicolas Sarkozy for a private lunch in the Paris house of Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni.
This gesture of friendship didn’t keep the French president from using a news conference shortly thereafter to harangue Merkel for refusing to supplement a 130 billion euro ($175 billion) spending program proposed by the European Union with an additional German spending program. When asked how their countries were reacting to the crisis, Sarkozy said, “France is working at it, while Germany is just thinking about it.”
Every newspaper in Germany interpreted this correctly as a huge slap in the face for Merkel. The German chancellor wasn’t fazed. She had already been pressured by U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, along with Sarkozy, to open the German purse strings and jump-start the economy with a huge spending program when she was in Washington for the Group of 20 summit in November.
“Madame No,” as she was known in the European press for her unwillingness to pump tax money into the German economy, never reacted publicly to Sarkozy’s words. Instead, she took six weeks to think about an adequate reaction to the financial crisis. Only in January 2009 did Germany finally announce an economic program worth 50 billion euros.
In stark contrast to the hastily set up spending programs of the U.S., U.K. and France, the German one was well thought through and delivered: Germany registered far fewer job losses during the crisis, and it was the first Western country to come out of it.