Suzanne Fields

BERLIN -- Chancellor Angela Merkel is suffering a barrage of metaphors, some of them pointed and all of them mixed. So, too, President Nicholas Sarkozy in neighboring France. They're the odd couple of the European Union, usually depicted as friends, but every European understands that kisses on both cheeks do not a romance make. Their dance was once a graceful duet in a light-hearted French operetta, but she's now singing off-key in a solo, rendering them a misbegotten couple in a Wagnerian opera.

Enough metaphors already? The German press has more. "These days, both leaders are governing on the thin ice of the financial crisis, but Sarkozy is whistling as he turns confident pirouettes, while Merkel is crawling across the slippery surface on all fours, slowly and cautiously," observes der Spiegel, the weekly newsmagazine, invoking popular cliches to deride the strategy the two leaders are using to deal with the recession.

Other leaders in the European Union want her to package a bigger stimulus, but Frau Merkel is cautious. She offers only modest sums to trigger investment. Mixed messages join mixed metaphors at home. When the chancellor met this week with government ministers, business executives and labor leaders to find ways to slow the recession, the meeting concluded with mush, calling for "collective accountability," which is no more appealing than "accountable collectivity." Most Germans do not suffer from personal debt. They're stingy with the plastic. But if they guard their credit cards, they don't seem to mind costly government measures for saving the environment.

Once a staunch supporter of the Merkel environmental protections, German Greens now depict the chancellor in shades of yellow, charging her with cowardice as her enthusiasm for fighting global warming cools (even as the globe itself cools).

The Greens are especially angry that she joined other EU nations in a compromise that delays setting goals for reducing carbon emissions in Eastern Europe, where there's a reliance on smokestack industries. She insists that ambitious targeted goals remain in place for the year 2020, but that means playing a waiting game, and there's a long, long time between 2008 and 2020.

Seeking to turn her negatives, Frau Merkel praised the EU economic stimulus package of $200 billion euros ($267 billion) and promised Germans that she would spend billions of euros on road-building and repairs next year. She feels the sting in the French accusation that she's "Madam Non" and failed Sarkozy by not supporting his expensive "rescue" proposals. She likes the sound of "Madam Oui" better.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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