French President Hollande has visited Berlin for talks with Chancellor Merkel about Europe's woes. Although eager to show a united front, they struggled to conceal underlying differences in their opinions.
At a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, the new French president Francois Hollande said he wanted both countries to work together for Europe's benefit. However, he later alluded to differences of opinion between the two.
"We want to work together for the good of Europe and we want to take all the other countries of the EU with us," said Hollande.
"It will be very important that Germany and France present their ideas together at this summit and work closely together to prepare it," added Merkel.
At the meeting, the two agreed to moot proposals in coming weeks for bolstering economic growth in Europe.
But Hollande also stated that all possible measures that could bolster growth should be considered when finding a solution for Europe's economic crisis.
"Everything must be put on the table" that could support growth in Europe, said Hollande. "I am for budget seriousness," Hollande insisted. But, he added, "I am for growth."
On the topic of Greece, there was greater consensus. Both leaders were adamant that they wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone.
President Hollande had arrived in Germany on Tuesday evening, albeit an hour late, for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel with the eurozone crisis and Greece's election turmoil top of the agenda.
It was a tricky start to what may prove to be a challenging first presidential trip for Hollande. Earlier, the jet transporting him to the meeting was hit by lightning en route to Berlin and forced to land back in Paris. Hollande was unharmed and took off in another plane, according to a presidential source.
Although officials have been careful to play down the meeting, insisting that it is about the two leaders getting to know each other rather than negotiating on major decisions, the rendezvous outcome is being closely analyzed, even more so as it is taking place in uncertain times; The failure of the Greek president to negotiate a new government, has opened the doors for a second election, which could possibly now take place on June 17. Some analysts say it could trigger a chain of events leading to Greece's exit from the Euro.
Possible collision course
Hollande and Merkel have fundamentally conflicting views on how to solve the crisis. While Merkel shows no sign of wavering on her commitment to austerity, Holland advocates more stimuli to boost sluggish growth and a drastic renegotiation of the German-championed European fiscal pact. He made that clear during his inauguration speech on Tuesday when he called for a "new pact" for Europe that "links a necessary reduction in public debt with indispensable economic stimulus."
It is unlikely that Merkel will welcome such a suggestion. She has already affirmed that the pact should not be tampered with, having already been signed by 25 of 27 EU member states and ratified by Greece, Portugal and Slovenia.
Before leaving for Germany, newly elected Hollande chose his Socialist colleague, Jean-Marc Ayrault to be France's new prime minister on Tuesday. Ayrault, who is the long-standing leader of the Socialists in the National Assembly, is widely viewed as a moderate.
The 62-year-old Ayrault is a former German teacher and a Germanophile, which may prove useful when it comes to building a relationship with France's powerful neighbor.
And earlier in the day, at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Hollande was inaugurated as the successor to Nicolas Sarkozy as the French president.
After an official ceremony where Sarkozy handed over the reins to Hollande, Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, climbed into a car in front of the palace and drove away, officially ending his role as President.
sej/rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP)