French premier Ayrault defends course in Berlin | News | DW | 15.11.2012
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French premier Ayrault defends course in Berlin

Appearing with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the French government's "sole compass" was a return to economic growth and a reduction in unemployment.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the highest-profile German-speaker in France's government, used Thursday's visit to Berlin to tout France's economic reforms - policies that had reportedly raised some eyebrows among the austerity-conscious in Berlin.

"A return to economic growth and a reduction in unemployment figures are our sole compass," the French prime minister said in a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. "We will use everything at our disposal to achieve the goal of restoring growth."

The French government recently announced plans to grant companies 20 billion euros ($25.5 billion) in annual tax credits to lower labor costs - an attempt to encourage companies to start hiring.

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French PM meets Merkel in Berlin

The government in Berlin is reportedly wary of French economic policy since the left-leaning government of Francois Hollande came to power in May this year, with one Reuters report claiming that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had asked his advisors to draft policy suggestions for Paris. Schäuble, who also met with Ayrault on Thursday, said that Germany and France did not "grade" each other's policies.

New neighbors

Merkel said she wished France's Socialist government "great success" with the policies it was putting into practice.

"We want a strong France just as France wants a strong Germany, so that together we can become a strong Europe," Merkel said.

The first two of these desires appeared to have been achieved - to some extent - on Thursday, but not the third. Eurozone economic figures for the July-September quarter of 2012 showed mild economic growth of 0.2 percent in both France and Germany, while all 15 remaining eurozone countries logged negative numbers. Aggregated, the currency union's economic output contracted by 0.1 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

Hollande's election victory over former President Nicolas Sarkozy in May prompted speculation that the EU's two largest economies might diverge somewhat. Sarkozy's conservative UMP is considered a closer ideological fit with Merkel's Christian Democrats than Hollande's Socialists.

msh/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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