By vowing this week to campaign for embattled French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel returns the electoral favor of her long-time ally—reviving the use of the duo’s paparazzi-styled joint nickname: Merkozy.The desperate state of the European debt crisis coupled with the dynamics of France’s upcoming presidential election provide ample reason to doubt the Chancellor’s pretext: “Nicolas Sarkozy supported me back then in an election campaign, if you remember…This has nothing to do with being concerned, it’s simply a common practice between our two countries.” Since Merkel was reelected three years ago, the French and German governments have approached European financial issues—including the ever-worsening present crisis—in a fragile balance. Sarkozy is trailing behind his main opponent, Socialist nominee Francois Hollande, who openly criticizes ongoing Franco-German eurozone policy, promising to renegotiate the new treaty currently being formulated by EU leaders. Much less was at stake during Germany’s 2009 federal election cycle, when Sarkozy campaigned for Merkel. Riding on a wave of high approval ratings, the Chancellor enjoyed an easy victory. The extent of Europe’s financial disaster—and the urgency of European unity needed to solve it—had not yet been revealed. Then, Merkel’s grand coalition hardly needed the help of Sarkozy to renew its mandate. Now, it is unclear what effect cross-border campaigning will have. Who says the French want to be told by a German Chancellor how to vote?By backing the less popular candidate, Merkel has raised the stakes of France’s 2012 presidential election. If Sarkozy loses, his successor’s predicted opposition to previous policies will have been spectacularly endorsed by the public. After the election, Franco-German accord will remain critical to implementing comprehensive financial reform, and it is risky for Merkel to allow potential future ideological disagreements with her counterpart in Paris to be sharpened by personal enmity.Hermann Groehe, second-in-command of Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party, stated the calculation of his boss clearly: “the upcoming election in France is not just decisive for that country, but for the successful resolution of Europe’s common challenges.” It’s a very high stakes, risky bet — and a bet on the candidate who, according to the polls, is well behind in the race. That Chancellor Merkel feels compelled to make it speaks volumes about the fragile nature of Europe these days. Stay tuned.