France’s Hollande Meets Merkel in Germany

Posted May 15th, 2012 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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New French President Francois Hollande has met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, shortly after his inauguration as France's first Socialist leader in 17 years.

During their first official meeting, the two leaders were expected to discuss their differences on how to revive Europe's economy and avert the euro crisis looming in the wake of Greece's political and financial problems.

Mr. Holland's first attempt to fly to Germany following his inauguration failed after the presidential plane, a Falcon 7X, was hit by lightning shortly after take-off from a military air base outside Paris. No one was hurt, but the plane returned to the base, where the president boarded a second aircraft and left for Germany.

Mr. Hollande's visit to Berlin for the key talks with Chancellor Merkel was his first order of business after officially taking office in a modest and rain-soaked ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

During his nationally televised inaugural speech, Mr. Hollande promised “a new path” for France, emphasizing growth, justice and what he described as “social democracy.” That approach contrasts greatly with that of the German chancellor, who has pushed for strict austerity measures to help tighten Europe's shaky economy.

Before leaving Paris, Mr. Hollande named Jean-Marc Ayrault as prime minister. The parliamentary leader of the Socialist party speaks German. He is expected to name his Cabinet Wednesday.

Mr. Hollande defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy in a runoff election last week, becoming the country's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand in 1995.

Mr. Hollande is expected to push Germany to renegotiate the recent euro zone treaty imposing budget austerity among its 17 member nations. Mr. Hollande is calling for a greater emphasis on growth, but the German leader says the pact is non-negotiable.

Political analyst Tanja Boerzel with the Free University of Berlin says despite the stark political differences, Mr. Hollande and Ms. Merkel may be able to find some common ground.

“I think the German government will be open for suggestions for two reasons. First, Angela Merkel is a pragmatic person who knows that she needs Francois Hollande to further manage the Euro crisis. And second, the German government acknowledged that austerity is not the only way to overcome the crisis.”

Newsweek Paris Bureau Chief Christopher Dickey says both leaders have a lot at stake.

“When Hollande meets Merkel, they both have to come away with a sense of victory, or with something that they can portray as a victory. She comes away saying 'we're keeping the stability pact.' He comes away saying 'ok, we're keeping the stability pact but we are going to negotiate a new growth pact.' This is something that the European Central Bank wants, something that many other European governments want. It is not out there, it is not a wild socialist dream. And I think he'll probably get it, or some variation on it.”

Mr. Hollande's election comes as the euro zone economy posted zero growth in the first three months of 2012 and avoided a recession. Experts had predicted the region's economy would shrink by 0.3 percent for the first quarter.

Later in the week, Mr. Hollande flies to the United States where he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday before attending a Group of Eight summit at the presidential retreat outside Washington, and a NATO summit in Chicago.