Despite their major differences, France’s newly-elected leader, François Hollande, and his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, have shown signs that compromise between the eurozone’s largest economies is possible.
Hollande met with Merkel in Berlin on his first trip as president on Tuesday to discuss proposals for generating economic growth in Europe. He set off immediately after his inauguration but the trip did not go smoothly as his plane was struck by lightning, forcing him to return to Paris to change planes.
As RT’s Peter Oliver reports from the German capital, there were no real political bombshells at the meeting, though the two did not try to cover up their differences.
The socialist Hollande once again stressed his commitment to growth as opposed to the conservative Merkel’s austerity-led approach to tackling Europe’s debt crisis. He said that everything that could promote growth in Europe must be put on the table by everyone.
During his presidential campaign, he also called for the European budget-discipline pact pushed by Merkel to be renegotiated. When asked if he still demands renegotiation, he said he would be able to answer the question “at the end of this work.”
Merkel, who backed then-president Nicolas Sarkozy in the French elections, has argued that growth needs to be generated by structural reform instead of relying on greater government spending.
However, she said that her differences with Hollande have been overplayed. “We are aware of our responsibility, as Germany and France, for good development in Europe,” Merkel said. “Carried by this spirit, I believe we will of course find solutions to the different problems.”
Hollande said he wants to work with Germany“for the good of Europe” and that he envisions “a balanced and respectful relationship.”
The leaders have found common ground, stressing that they want to keep debt-stricken Greece in the eurozone and that they want to help build growth there, but that existing agreements have to be maintained.
With Greece going to polls in June, Hollande said he hoped Greek voters would show their attachment to the eurozone.
Hollande’s relations with Merkel will be crucial to the fate of the eurozone. Before his departure for Berlin he appointed veteran lawmaker Jean-Marc Ayrault as his prime minister. Ayrault, the longtime leader of the Socialists in the French parliament, is fluent in German and is familiar with German politics.
Both Hollande and Merkel will do anything possible to protect the euro and the EU project, says the MEP Paul Mittal of the UK Independence Party. “They will go cap in hand to the commission. They will also transfer money from France, Germany and from other countries to Greece,” he told RT, adding that he believes that whole project is going to fail in the end.
Mittal claims the austerity is not working and that Hollande does not really have a choice in this situation. “On the EU’s behest they need to keep austerity going. They need to continue transferring money down from Northern Europe to Greece in particular.”
France and Germany need to do this to keep the EU project going, he adds. “This project was never about economics, it was always about ideology and they know if Greece falls out of euro than what will happen is that all the countries will go too.”
He concludes that the problems Europe is currently facing were not cooked up recently, but were set in motion 12 years ago, when the euro was introduced.