Hollande steps up diplomatic efforts to agree EU growth pact


FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE will travel to Berlin within hours of becoming French president next Tuesday as diplomatic efforts gather pace to secure a deal on a European growth pact.

Preparations for the transfer of power in Paris continued yesterday when French prime minister François Fillon delivered his government’s resignation notice to French president Nicolas Sarkozy. It will take effect next Tuesday, when Mr Hollande will formally replace Mr Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace.

The new president will travel to Berlin that afternoon to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel. They are expected to discuss Mr Hollande’s proposals for a growth pact as well as the political situation in Greece.

Mr Hollande has said he wants to reorient European recovery efforts towards measures that promote growth, and criticised Germany during his campaign for insisting too rigidly on austerity. Signs suggest the two sides believe a compromise can be struck in the coming weeks.

Facing strong opposition from Dr Merkel to growth-through-stimulus policies, Mr Hollande acknowledged this week that kick-starting European economies through extra spending was out of the question.

He has tabled four proposals for action at EU level, none of which has been expressly ruled out by Berlin, and a consensus on the issue between France and Germany would pave the way for a positive outcome to the EU summit on growth on May 23rd.

Agreement on the package is unlikely until the June EU summit but the indications are that Mr Hollande is seeking a growth agenda to add to the fiscal treaty rather than any changes in the existing package. The French side insists it will force a change in the EU’s overall approach, however.

Responding to Dr Merkel’s assertion that “growth on credit” would tip Europe deeper into crisis, French Socialist Party spokesman Benoît Hamon said: “Angela Merkel is sticking to her position, but she cannot override the will of the French people.”

Although Mr Hollande will not formally take power until next week, the busy European timetable and political uncertainty in Greece have thrown him into a round of discussions.

Yesterday, he received Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the eurogroup, for what his staff described as “frank and friendly” talks on the EU agenda.

Mr Juncker declined to comment on his hour-long meeting with Mr Hollande, but on Monday he told the president-elect by phone that growth elements could be tacked on as long as the fiscal treaty was not altered.

Earlier this week, Mr Hollande met European Council president Herman Van Rompuy.

The president-elect’s decision to meet two EU leaders before his visit to Berlin was being read by some analysts as a sign of his desire to see through a campaign promise to broaden decision-making beyond the Franco-German axis. Mr Hollande has said he sees Germany as France’s most important partner but wants an end to the perception of a “directorate” imposing decisions on other countries.

In an interview with Libération newspaper yesterday, socialist former foreign minister Hubert Védrine said Mr Hollande wanted to rebalance the relationship with Germany. “For that, he needs to bring other partners back into the game. And not be afraid of making things clear with Berlin, because on a lot of issues we have different approaches,” said Mr Védrine.

Mr Hollande was yesterday officially proclaimed the winner of the election, having won 51.6 per cent of the vote.