France’s new president meets Germany’s leader

Stephen Beard May 15, 2012

France’s new president meets Germany’s leader

Stephen Beard May 15, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: From our desk of oh gee, that’s not a good omen today… this news: The brand new president of France, Francois Hollande, was on his way to Berlin today for a meeting with Angela Merkel, minding his own business flying along in the presidential plane when it was hit by lightning. He got there eventually, the meeting did happen, if a bit late. Not a good start to arguably the most important economic relationship in Europe.

From the European Desk, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: Francois Hollande was sworn in as the new French president this morning with all the pomp and national pride that France can muster.

La Marseillaise

But within hours he was flying off to Berlin to meet Europe’s real power and pay master.

Angela Merkel speaking

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she welcomed the new French president “with open arms.” But the two leaders do not agree over the best way to tackle the eurozone debt crisis. Hollande has called for Europe’s new treaty promoting budget discipline to be renegotiated. But German lawmaker and Merkel ally Peter Altmaier says that cannot happen.

Peter Altmaier: We are profoundly convinced that this policy that was signed up by 25 member states is the only way out of the crisis.

And he dismisses Hollande’s idea that Europe should borrow more to invest and therefore grow its way out of trouble.

Altmaier: We cannot solve a southern debt crisis by allowing an even higher deficit.

All this is rather tricky for the new French president: he won the election promising a new, more expansive approach to the crisis. Paul Vallet is with the Sciences Po University in Paris.

Paul Vallet: It will be very difficult for him to turn to his electorate and say that he couldn’t deliver what he promised. Within a week of the election it’s a very dire start.

Of course Hollande won’t make any such admission. And Angela Merkel will make it easy for him, talking about the importance of investment to get the European economy growing again while still insisting on budget belt-tightening. And, says Paul Vallet, Hollande can always fall back on his formidable political skills.

Vallet: Some people have nicknamed him “The Eel” for his capacity to wiggle out of a difficult spot with some kind of choice formula. He’s going to have to put that talent to work here.

In the wake of his victory there has been talk of Hollande leading a pro-growth, anti-austerity group of eurozone countries including Greece, and ganging up on Germany. A Greek myth, says German commentater Heinz Schulte.

Heinz Schulte: If they believe that France will lead a southern sort of rebellion against the Germans, then that could end up in a deep Greek tragedy because that is not going to happen.

He says that France and Germany are too entwined. They must remain in lockstep. And just as Merkel merged with the previous French leader to become “Merkozy,” a new entity is now stalking Europe: “Merkollande.”

In London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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