French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to Spain amidst controversy over his unflattering remarks regarding Spanish PM Zapatero. Talks between the two leaders will focus primarily on the economic crisis and the separatist group ETA.
AFP - President Nicolas Sarkozy pays a state visit to Spain on Monday following a brouhaha over the French leader's remarks reportedly describing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as dim.
Accompanied by his wife Carla, Sarkozy will be treated to full honours by King Juan Carlos before joining Zapatero for a summit on Tuesday focussed on combating the economic crisis and the Basque armed separatist group ETA.
The face-to-face meeting will be closely watched for signs of tension after Sarkozy was forced to deny reports he had disparaged Zapatero at an Elysee luncheon two weeks ago with French lawmakers.
The remarks triggered a political and media furore on both sides of the Pyrenees.
Zapatero himself has played down reports that Sarkozy described him as "not very smart" during a discussion on the French Socialist opposition's political prospects.
"Perhaps he's not very smart but I know people who were very clever and who didn't make the second round of the presidential election," sources quoted Sarkozy as saying of Zapatero.
He was referring to former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin who failed to make the runoff for the French presidency in 2002 after he came in third in the first round of voting.
Sarkozy took pains to praise Zapatero in an interview at the weekend to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, saying the Socialist prime minister was "a man of talent, a man of conviction, one of Europe's greatest."
"Even though we do not belong to the same political family, we have always managed to work together," the French rightwing leader said.
"We hold each other in great esteem, we sincerely like each other and I believe I can say that we have a real friendship," he said.
French Socialist politician Segolene Royal, Sarkozy's rival for the presidency in 2007, wrote to Zapatero to apologise on behalf of France for the remarks, a move mocked as pretentious by Sarkozy's supporters.
During a visit filled with pageantry, Sarkozy is to make an address to the Spanish parliament before holding behind-closed-door talks with Zapatero on Tuesday and holding a joint news conference.
Two agreements will be signed during the visit on interior security and on French assistance to the Spanish presidency of the Euroepan Union that begins on January 1.
France and Spain will seek to broaden joint efforts to root out Basque separatists after a string of Franco-Spanish security operations led to the arrests of several ETA chiefs and severely weakened the movement.
With Spain heading toward 20 percent unemployment, the leaders will seek to maximize efforts to cushion the blow from the economic crisis on both their countries.
Spanish media meanwhile are gearing up for a style war between Princess Letizia, the wife of Crown Prince Felipe, and former top model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who both regularly appear on lists of the world's best-dressed women.
Date created : 2009-04-27