Germany's Merkel welcomes Bruni aid petition
BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed France's first lady Carla Bruni to make a personal appeal to the German parliament for aid, despite an initial cold shoulder given to the plan by some politicians.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told Reuters on Thursday that Merkel supported Bruni's quest to speak before the budget committee of the Bundestag lower house to seek more funding for the fight against AIDS.
"The Chancellor found this a good idea because Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy could deliver important arguments," he said, using Bruni's married name.
Officials in Merkel's ruling coalition had earlier said the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to appear before the committee but was likely to be politely shown the door.
Bruni, a former model, hopes to press Germany in her capacity as an ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but lawmakers were skeptical, arguing it would encourage other lobbyists to try their hand too.
"I can't imagine she'll be given an official invitation, because that would break the committee's rules," said Norbert Barthle, budgetary spokesman for Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament.
Otto Fricke, a budget policy specialist from the Free Democrats (FDP), junior partners to the CDU, agreed.
"We mustn't give the impression that celebrity status ensures access to the budget committee," he said.
Rebuffing the 42-year-old Bruni could have been awkward for Merkel, whose relations with Sarkozy have suffered frequent ups and downs, most recently during a testy diplomatic exchange this month over the French president's expulsion of Roma.
The officials said Bruni wants to ask Germany for an extra 200 million euros ($268.1 million) for the Global Fund, to which other countries promised more aid at the Millennium Summit in New York.
Canada, which like Germany is campaigning for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, pledged to give an additional C$540 million ($524.8 million) for the next three years. Sarkozy promised a billion euros from France.
Germany's development ministry has set aside only 200 million euros for the fund next year and has ruled out further pledges for now, although Merkel herself said she would continue supporting it at the weekend summit in New York.
The Global Fund takes in aid from governments and private donors and gives out grants to countries which make proposals on how to confront the three targeted diseases.
(Writing by Michelle Martin, editing by Paul Casciato)
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