French PM Ayrault meets Merkel in Berlin

Fri, Nov 16, 2012, 00:00

If Paris and Berlin don’t understand each other these days, they can’t blame the language barrier.

French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault made clear on his inaugural visit to Berlin yesterday that he is happy to speak German to a Christian Democrat chancellor.

“But as a representative of the French republic,” the Socialist prime minister said, “I have the obligation to speak my language.”

Six months after the French election, both sides insist the will for Franco-German agreement is there.

“We share the conviction that the Franco-German relationship is necessary, it is our political inheritance,” said Mr Ayrault.

But the new Franco-German axis has yet to get in the groove on the right euro zone dosage of austerity and stimulus; the future of Greece; and the EU budget to 2020.

Berlin wants a more modest budget but Mr Ayrault insisted ahead of his visit that France is “prepared neither to give up the Common Agricultural Policy nor the cohesion funds”.

Bridging interests

Ahead of next week’s budget summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel had nothing to announce beyond the promise that both countries “want to be a good example that different interests can be bridged”.

Asked about her reported concerns over French reform zeal, Dr Merkel replied: “You don’t seriously expect me to give grades on what is happening in France.”

Not in public at least: that job has reportedly been outsourced to Berlin’s “wise men” advisers on economic policy.

Equally irritating for Paris was former Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s prediction that the French Socialist election promises would soon burn up in a harsh reform reality.

Ahead of his visit, Mr Ayrault said France “does not need any lectures”.

‘Outrageous decisions’

“My government is in office for six months and we have already taken courageous decisions,” said Mr Ayrault, telling the Süddeutsche newspaper Paris would not slavishly borrow from Germany.

“There is no model, there is sensible practice . . . but we do need to create a new French model.”

One early Socialist success, he hinted, was ending the Merkozy era where “some European governments had the feeling” Berlin and Paris ignored them.

Mr Ayrualt noted that previous German calls for an Athens euro zone exit contrasted to “the German government saying we will not let Greece fall”.