16th Jun 2019

Hollande receives German opposition leader

  • Peer Steinbrueck will have private talks with Hollande in the Elysee Palace (Photo: vincent.m)

French President Francois Hollande will Friday (6 April) receive Germany's opposition leader and chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck in Paris after recently admitting there is "friendly tension" with Angela Merkel over the euro crisis.

In terms of the programme, Steinbrueck is getting the red carpet treatment for a contender for office. He will meet fellow socialist Hollande for private talks in the Elysee Palace after having had breakfast with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

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The trip comes six months ahead of Germany's general election and makes publicly clear that Hollande is hoping for a Social Democrat win so that the eurozone's response to the euro crisis - shaped by deep-pocketed Berlin - will change.

Germany under the centre-right leadership of Angela Merkel has been strongly focussed on reducing budget deficits, with less emphasis on growth strategies or solidarity measures such as eurobonds, favoured by Hollande.

And Berlin's political dominance is preventing Hollande from making good on campaign promises to bring in growth-focussed policies and move away from austerity.

Instead the French president has been focussed on reducing the country's budget deficit to bring it in line with EU rules. His success at the EU level has been limited. An EU growth pact he pushed in response to Germany's fiscal discipline treaty is widely seen as weak.

Meanwhile Hollande is suffering politically. With the economy stagnating and unemployment at a 16-year high, his popularity has slumped to 27 percent.

Hollande and Merkel have struggled to build a bond since the French politician was elected last June. Berlin wants budget discipline first followed by solidarity. Paris wants the reverse.

During the presidential campaign, Hollande spoke out against the German-led response to the crisis. At the time Merkel refused to receive him in Berlin and endorsed the centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy instead. Since Hollande's election there have been few of the traditional Franco-German meetings to agree EU policy.

And in unusually frank admission during a TV interview last week, Hollande said there was "friendly tension" between France and Germany. "As you know, Mrs Merkel and I do not have the same ideas."

In the same interview, he warned that austerity measures would not lead to what Berlin is hoping for - growth and balanced budgets.

"Do you want to see extremists, even neonazis, in Europe," he asked.

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

With national leaders and the European Parliament divided over who to put forward for the commission presidency, the EU Council president will now start negotiations with all sides - hoping to come up with an answer by next month.

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