Kenny, Hollande discussions focus on EU growth plan


THE DEVELOPMENT of an EU growth strategy was the focus of the first conversation between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and French president- elect François Hollande.

After a telephone conversation yesterday morning that lasted more than 15 minutes, spokesmen for both leaders said the discussions had focused on the need for growth initiatives in addition to the fiscal treaty.

The discussions took place as it emerged in Berlin that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Hollande are on their way to agreeing the main elements of a new EU growth strategy.

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.

It also emerged yesterday that the timetable for German ratification of the treaty is being delayed as talks on the growth initiative proceed.

A spokesman for the Government said last night this would have no impact on the referendum date as it was entirely up to individual countries how they proceeded with the ratification process. “International investors appreciate certainty and the sooner we can provide it the better,” he added.

However, Independent Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy called on the Government to delay the referendum in the light of the German move. “Irish people must be allowed to wait and see if Francois Hollande’s demand for growth-boosting measures is included in the pact before they make such a crucial decision,” she said.

The Government spokesman said that during his conversation with Mr Hollande the Taoiseach had briefed him on the referendum campaign.

The spokesman added that both leaders discussed their shared commitment to the importance of growth for European economic recovery, and undertook to work closely in the development of growth initiatives that would be additional to the fiscal rules that have already been agreed.

In Paris, the head of Mr Hollande’s transition team said he had an “important, substantial exchange” with the Taoiseach. Pierre Moscovici told The Irish Times they discussed the fiscal treaty referendum and the growth agenda over “quite a long” phone conversation.

“What is clear is that the president-elect does not wish to interfere in the democratic consultation by referendum in your country,” said Mr Moscovici. “I think that is also the wish of the Irish prime minister — that the referendum can take place under the best conditions,” he added.

Mr Hollande’s Europe adviser, Catherine Trautmann, said negotiating a new growth pact would involve a lot of political agility.

“The Irish have a lot of experience of this, so I think they’ll be able to help us,” she said.

In Berlin the chief whip of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Peter Altmaier, expressed the view that there was room for a consensus between France and Germany on the growth issue.

Mr Altmaier added that it was unlikely that any growth pact could be agreed before the Irish referendum.

“This is a continual process at European level and we cannot wait for particular events to agree something,” he said. “Every government has to decide in its own time. Of course we wish that the Irish referendum will be a success.”

The postponement of German ratification stems from a decision of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens to withhold their support until they can study EU growth measures to complement the treaty.