French Socialist candidate meets Merkel, assails austerity

French Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon assailed European austerity policies as he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, arguing that they have helped fuel the rise of the far right.

Hamon followed conservative Francois Fillon and independent Emmanuel Macron in making the trip to France's traditional partner in European integration.

He said after meeting the conservative chancellor that they agreed on reinforcing European defense and on upholding a peace agreement for Ukraine brokered by Germany and France, but differed on economic matters.

"I repeated to her my disagreement with austerity policies, the consequences that they have had on people, the fact that they have produced today social desperation that produces votes for the far right," Hamon told reporters.

Merkel has been a leading advocate in recent years of European countries cutting debts and getting their budgets in order.

Hamon said he discussed with Merkel "the weight today of (far-right leader) Marine Le Pen in the French political landscape, which I think is also one of the consequences of policies that have weakened public services, weakened social protection."

He said he also set out to Merkel proposals for giving decisions in the 19-nation eurozone "greater diplomatic legitimacy," and that the chancellor pointed out possible legal reservations and "political difficulties."

The first round of France's presidential election will be held April 23. Polls favor Le Pen and Macron to advance to a runoff May 7.

Hamon, the governing party's candidate, is squeezed between Macron and a candidate further to the left, Jean-Luc Melenchon.

During Tuesday's visit, Hamon also met center-left leader Martin Schulz, Merkel's challenger in Germany's Sept. 24 election.

Schulz offered Hamon his Social Democrats' support to Hamon, calling him "a man of deep convictions." The two leaders stressed the importance of fighting tax evasion and tax competition in Europe.