Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 20:24 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 20:24 | SYDNEY

The 2011 Madeleine Award winner


Graeme Dobell

31 January 2012 13:22

Some years it's hard to build much tension in the Oscars and thus it is with our third annual Madeleine Award for the use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs.

As with the Oscars (over to you Meryl), one Madeleine-worthy performance demands to win the prize. The Madeleine statuette must go to the extraordinary double act that has merged into one name: Merkozy.

Ah, the sustained summitry, the recurring moments of impending crisis barely averted in the careening rush towards the next moment of dramatic Euro-disaster. And — zut alors! — just look at the bills. Even Hollywood blockbusters can't burn through cash like Angela and Nicolas. Ultimately, it may be a hit or a flop, but already it has had a great run. Jawboning markets, turning-over governments, zapping leaders, propping up economies; this is performance art of the highest ambition. Not surprising that such a complicated act doesn't always hit the mark (make that Deutsche Mark).

At the centre of this extraordinary marathon of finance and diplomacy stands Merkozy. Angela Merkel gets to play the Bundesbank Bismarck. Gideon Rachman records Merkel's chilling impact on a roomful of politicians: 'When she walks into the room, everybody falls silent. It's like the headmistress coming in.' Nicolas Sarkozy can reflect on the Clemenceau-flavoured musings of previous generations about the power of a re-united Germany, best expressed by the novelist Francois Mauriac: 'I love Germany so much, I am glad there are two of them.'

All that remains is to nominate the essential moment that best expresses the Merkozy performance.

The judges were strongly drawn to 'The Smirk', the moment at a press conference in October when the two leaders were asked if they were confident Italy's Silvio Berlusconi was capable of making economic reforms. The twin smile that question drew from Merkozy prompted a gale of laughter from journalists.

The Smirk, however, does not convey the dramatic tensions within the act. As the Charlemagne column notes: 'It is an old tenet of European politics that the Franco-German partnership is necessary to disguise German strength and French weakness.' The disguise is wearing thin. That is why Sarkozy has to work so hard to maintain the show of joint leadership. And that brings us to the image that best expresses the forces warring inside Merkozy. Pass the microphone to a veteran correspondent, the urbane Steven Erlanger:

She makes fun in private, of the way he walks and talks, of his rapid, jerky gestures and facial grimaces. He mocks her deliberation, her reluctance, her matronly caution. She has compared him to Mr. Bean and to the French comic Louis de Funès, with his curly hair and large nose. He sometimes calls her La Boche, the offensive French version of “Kraut,” and goes out of his way to give her an embrace and a double-cheeked kiss in the French fashion, the kind of contact that he knows very well, aides say, she cannot stand.

The crowning touch is bestowing the double-cheeked kiss on the woman with the money and the power, even though she dislikes such French flummery. Merkozy is a worthy winner of the Madeleine.

Photo by Flickr user francediplomatie.