Francois Hollande sworn in, heads to meet Angela Merkel

Stephen Beard May 15, 2012

David Brancaccio: France has its first socialist president since the mid-90s. Francois Hollande was sworn in today and promptly headed for Berlin to meet German Leader Angela Merkel for the first time.

The two power players in European politics have very different ideas about how to tackle the european financial mess, as Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports from London.

Stephen Beard: She wants to tighten the purse strings. He wants to splurge. She’s for austerity and he’s for growth. But don’t expect the Clash of the Titans when Merkel meets Hollande today; he’s not quite Titan material. In France, analyst Paul Vallet says, Hollande is known by his opponents as “Flanby.”

Paul Vallet: It’s a caramel pudding which is known for its soft and flabby constituency.

And so he may seem when Angela Merkel gets her hands on him, says analyst Sudha David-Wilp. She says the German leader will use all her manipulative skills on her guest.

Sudha David-Wilp: I think she’s going to take time to assess him — his personality — and probably see how she can shape him and influence him.

The two do disagree. During the French election Hollande called for Europe’s new treaty promoting budget discipline to be re-negotiated. But German lawmaker and Merkel ally Peter Altmaier says that cannot happen.

Peter Altmaier: It was concluded by 25 countries, and that means you cannot re-negotiate a treaty every time there is a national election in a country.

In the wake of his victory there has been talk of Hollande leading a pro-growth, anti-austerity group of eurozone countries including Greece, Italy, Spain and ganging up on Germany. Forget it, says Paul Vallet.

Vallet: The Germans are going to be very firm on their policy principles because they have the money, they hold the cards here.

And says Sudha David-Wilp they take a dim view of European backsliders.

David-Wilp: Germany has had its reform and belt-tightening over the years. And the other countries should also line up to do the same in the European Union.

So when “Flanby” arrives in Berlin, will the pudding wobble? Paul Vallet thinks he’ll live up to his other nickname.

Vallet: Some people have nicknamed him “the eel” for his capacity to wiggle out of a difficult spot with some kind of choice formula. I think we’re going to see more eel than pudding in the next few weeks.

So more wiggle than wobble.

In London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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