France's Hollande focuses on euro crisis
PARIS – French President-elect Francois Hollande didn't wait to take office to press his agenda for digging Europe out of economic crisis: He met Wednesday with the European Union president and presented his case for joint European bonds and government stimulus to boost growth.
Powerhouse Germany isn't fond of either idea, at least not now, and wants other European governments to tighten their budgets first.
That has prompted concerns about the Franco-German relationship that has underpinned European cooperation for decades — concerns that a senior adviser to the Socialist Hollande and a senior lawmaker in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party both sought to downplay Wednesday.
France's election of Hollande on Sunday "will be a factor of unity in Europe," Hollande adviser Pierre Moscovici said.
He noted that one of Hollande's first meetings this week — even before he is inaugurated May 15 — was with EU President Herman Van Rompuy on Wednesday.
Hollande will meet Thursday with Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who also chairs meetings of the eurozone's 17 finance ministers.
And Hollande will make his first foreign trip after taking office to Berlin, to see Merkel.
Even European leaders who don't share space with Hollande on the left of the political spectrum "are showing a great availability to debate with Mr. Hollande on the growth agenda," Moscovici said.
Hollande and Van Rompuy discussed the Frenchman's plan to send a letter to other European leaders laying out his proposals for joint European bonds, government-sponsored investment and a financial transaction tax, Moscovici said.
Van Rompuy, as he left Hollande's campaign headquarters, said he was "totally" satisfied with the meeting. He didn't elaborate.
Under President Nicolas Sarkozy, France took a leading role with Merkel on finding a solution to the continent's debt crisis. Many are wondering now how the relationship between the two neighbors will change under Hollande.
Hollande already made waves during the campaign by declaring that he wanted to renegotiate a bedrock of the continent's response to the crisis — a fiscal compact meant to limit overspending. Hollande says the agreement has to also address promoting growth.
It's unclear at this stage whether Hollande would settle for an annex to the pact or wants to overhaul the whole thing, which has already been signed by 25 countries including France.
A senior German lawmaker said Wednesday he doesn't expect a full renegotiation, and that he sees room for agreement with Hollande on his desire to foster growth.
"I think there is room for a ... German-French consensus," Peter Altmaier, the chief parliamentary whip of Merkel's conservative party, told reporters.
But given that most European countries regularly need to borrow on the markets, he warned, "we don't have unlimited time."
"Time and again, there will be a setback somewhere and there will be debates — but at the end we will manage to preserve the euro as the European currency," he said.
Hollande has never held a ministerial post and is largely an unknown outside France. Even inside the country, many are wondering what kind of leader he will be — especially since he is now regarded as a key figure in the move to ease Europe from its strict austerity path.
But for all his campaign promises, Hollande was seen in the past as a moderate within France's Socialist camp, a pragmatist who seeks consensus and supports European unity.
Wednesday marked Sarkozy's last cabinet meeting, which ministers described as emotional. The government will formally resign on Thursday.
Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.