New French prime minister ′spricht deutsch′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.05.2012
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New French prime minister 'spricht deutsch'

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who studied German, could prove a key asset as France seeks to assuage Germany's austerity drive in the eurozone. He told DW Paris and Berlin were the driving force in Europe.

If newly elected French President Francois Hollande wanted to send a signal to Berlin about establishing constructive relations, he succeeded with his choice of Jean-Marc Ayrault as prime minster.

Ayrault speaks German, understands the political culture in Berlin and brings a wealth of knowledge as a policymaker with more than 25 years of experience in the French parliament.

A long-time ally of France's new Socialist Party president, the 62-year-old politician is also known for his pragmatism - a quality surely to come in handy in the tough negotiations on the euro and the future of Europe that lie in the months ahead.

German-inspired fiscal discipline

Those talks will be tough, judging by remarks Hollande made during his bruising presidential campaign. Chief among them was that he would try to renegotiate the German-inspired fiscal discipline pact for Europe.

Jean-Marc Ayrault

Ayrault has an affinity for German political culture

Talk like that was not exactly what German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minster Wolfgang Schäuble wanted to hear amid an escalating euro crisis.

In an interview with DW shortly before the election, Ayrault conceded that some French policies would change if Hollande took over as president.

"Balancing the budget is a priority in France, but it can't be the only valid economic policy in Europe: otherwise, the frustration with Europe would grow," he said. "That is why we want to negotiate a new version of the current fiscal pact by adding to it."

A key addition would be a new strategy for growth, Ayrault said.

"[Growth is] not only a question for the French; it's also an issue in Germany, Italy and Spain," he said. "The crisis in Europe is not over. We have to solve this problem of growth, and that's what we want to discuss with Germany."

Connecting countries

French President-elect Francois Hollande, left, shakes hands with President of the Socialist group at the National Assembly Jean-Marc Ayrault during the Socialist Party's national council

President Francois Hollande has plenty of changes up his sleeve

Ayrault said he saw himself as a potential bridge-builder between the two large European neighbors and key forces in the eurozone.

"I have good relations with my friends in the [German Social Democratic Party] and also with some in the inner circle of those currently in charge in Berlin," he said in the DW interview. "I have long had good relations with German politicians, and it's important that we get to know each other if we want to work better together in the future."

In a blog on his website in early May, Ayrault referred to the Franco-German ties as the "driving force" of Europe.

"There is no Europe without the close collaboration of our two countries," he wrote. "We therefore need to reinforce this friendship with Germany but also with our other European partners."

Ayrault, the son of a factory worker, is expected to wield substantial power under Hollande. In the run-up to the election, the president said he would govern differently than his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was known to keep a tight rein on daily operations.

Under the French constitution, the prime minister is responsible for running the government and is held accountable by parliament.

Author: John Blau
Editor: Sean Sinico

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