Merkel to meet newly elected Hollande

2012-05-11 15:32

Berlin - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a first round of talks on the eurozone crisis with French President Francois Hollande in Berlin on Tuesday after his inauguration, her spokesperson said.

"It sends a very strong message that the new French president is making his first trip abroad to Germany," Steffen Seibert told a regular government news conference on Friday.

"The chancellor is looking forward to close and friendly co-operation with the new French president.

"She is sure that the traditionally close co-ordination with France will continue to be the foundation of their work together in Europe - to ensure prosperity, peace and democracy in the long run," he added.

Seibert stressed that the meeting between the conservative German leader and the Socialist president was not intended to forge new policies but rather as preliminary talks to get acquainted.

"It's, of course, not a decision-making meeting but a getting-to-know-you meeting, a first get-together," Seibert said.

Military honours

He said Merkel wanted to sound Hollande out on "his ideas about fiscal discipline and the promotion of economic growth and jobs and to present Germany's convictions and what in our view Europe has already accomplished since the issue of growth started playing a key role on the European level at the end of last year".

Merkel had said on Monday that she thought her phone call to Hollande on Sunday night to congratulate him on his election victory had been their first-ever conversation.

The chancellor will welcome Hollande with military honours at her chancellery and hold a joint press conference with him, Seibert said.

Aides to Hollande had said on Thursday that Hollande would fly to Berlin within hours of his swearing-in ceremony.

Hollande is to formally become president of France on Tuesday morning replacing Merkel's defeated ally Nicolas Sarkozy, and will name his prime minister before flying to Berlin, aides said.

The French Socialist had previously promised that his first visit would be to the German capital, where Merkel has said he would be welcomed with "open arms".

Conciliatory noises

France and Germany - Europe's biggest economies - have traditionally been seen as the twin engines of European integration.

But ties have come under strain during the debt crisis, with Sarkozy at first pushing for Germany to allow greater burden-sharing within the eurozone, before backing down and tacitly accepting Merkel's leadership.

Hollande campaigned on a pledge to renegotiate the eurozone's fiscal pact, which binds member states to austerity measures, and which Merkel argues is essential to underpin the continent's eventual recovery.

Both the German and French leaders have made conciliatory noises since Hollande's election on Sunday, but the meeting is expected to be tense, with Berlin already insisting the pact cannot be re-opened.

Observers expect that some kind of compromise can be found, perhaps through a parallel treaty or annex to the pact that would include measures to favour growth alongside the previous deficit-cutting.

Even here, however, divisions would remain, with Hollande favouring joint EU investment in major projects, and Merkel calling for structural adjustments to - in particular - labour markets and pensions.