PARIS — The moment France’s president-elect Francois Hollande is sworn in on Tuesday, he leaves his cosy post-election no-man’s land for potentially bruising encounters on the European and world stage.
Hours after naming a prime minister, France’s first Socialist leader since 1995 will fly to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, an ally of the man he defeated last week, centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande campaigned on a pledge to renegotiate the eurozone’s fiscal pact agreed in March, which binds member states to austerity measures and which Merkel argues is essential to underpin the continent’s eventual recovery.
The meeting between the leaders of Europe’s economic powerhouses will be closely watched by European Union partners and by the financial markets that Hollande declared during campaigning were “the enemy.” “We have positions that are not yet converging,” Hollande admitted Thursday of his upcoming talks with Merkel, while German officials have sought to play down the encounter.
“It’s, of course, not a decision-making meeting but a getting-to-know-you meeting, a first get-together,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday.
Merkel wants to hear Hollande’s “ideas about fiscal discipline and the promotion of economic growth and jobs,” Seibert said.
Ideas raised at their talks are expected to be developed at an informal EU dinner summit on May 23 with a possible growth deal to be announced at the full-fledged EU summit on June 28 and 29.
Market analysts are reassured that Hollande does not reject the budgetary pact itself, but simply wants to add growth stimulus measures, and traders are also keen to avert a vicious circle of recession and austerity.
Ahead of the talks, Hollande, who has no ministerial experience, this week met with the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker, and EU president Herman Van Rompuy He has also consulted Italian caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti who supports both Merkel’s austerity and Hollande’s call for growth and could work as a mediator between competing ideologies within the EU. — AFP