25th Jan 2021

French president bemused by lengthy EU summit

At his first ever EU summit, French President Hollande scored a victory of sorts by managing to get eurobonds - previously a taboo topic - discussed around the table.

At around 1am in the morning, the socialist leader - whose views on spurring economic growth have altered the nature of the policy debate in Europe - appeared before press for 45 minutes, in sharp contrast to German leader Angela Merkel who gave a short statement and took two questions.

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  • Francois Hollande had a lengthy introduction to an EU summit (Photo: Francois Hollande)

Summing up the meeting, which was meant to be a free-ranging discussion on how to fix Europe's economy, Hollande said that there had been "no conflict or confrontation" but that he reminded his colleagues of his "vision" on growth.

The main point of interest - and the one that had resulted in a tit-for-tat exchange between Berlin and Paris ahead of Wednesday's meeting - was the question of mutualising eurozone debt in the form of eurobonds.

The positions were no closer after five hours of debate. While Hollande said he understands eurobonds as something that can be the "starting point" for discussions on growth, he noted that Berlin believes eurobonds will only be the result of "long term integration."

He pointed out that there were others who were "more against" the idea of eurobonds than the German chancellor but that he was "not the only one" advocating them. Among those taking Germany's side were the Finns and the Dutch.

But diplomats at the meeting suggested Hollande had won a symbolic victory through the fact that eurobonds formed a major part of the evening's discussion. Italian leader Mario Monti suggested that most countries were in favour of the idea.

The informal summit is meant to feed into the traditional summer summit next month. This is when EU leaders are due to make concrete some of Wednesday evening's discussion points, such as increasing the capital of the European Investment Bank.

But for Hollande it was also lengthy introduction to the EU way of doing things. The favoured method is a 'tour de table' - where everyone gets their say but true debate is rare. He appeared bemused by how long some of his colleagues could hold forth.

"They speak for very varied amounts of time," he noted. Some can say their thoughts in "a few minutes" others, for reasons unknown, take up "part of the evening."

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