The French and the German Leaders Chose Consensus Over Conflict

BERLIN – Newly inaugurated French President François Hollande met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, May 15th in Berlin to discuss their hopes for a common European policy. Despite several disagreements over the best way to promote growth, the two World leaders both pledged to go forward hand-in-hand for the sake of Europe.

The day had started with a lightning strike to François Hollande’s plane to Berlin. Good or bad omen, no one could say, but one thing cannot be denied: the expected clash between two very different notions of Europe never happened. During his presidential campaign, François Hollande made his opposition to the Nicolas Sarkozy-Angela Merkel European economic policy a central point of his platform, demanding growth measures be added to the pact of European stability.

The agreement under former President Sarkozy focused mainly on budgetary austerity, making Tuesday’s meeting a principle moment in deciding the uncertain fate of Europe. Many speculated about the possibility of a deadlock between the two heads of state.

France and Germany are “both aware of their responsibility” and knew that it was their “duty” to work together, said Merkel. Hollande added that he wanted “a relationship between France and Germany, balanced and respectful of their mutual political sensibilities”.

Quelling the rumors of Greece leaving the Euro-zone, they both agreed on the necessity for the country to find a better way to recover and that they did not see abandoning Euro as an option. Merkel accused the press of recently over-emphasizing the points of disagreements between the two countries.

The consensus on Greece was one of the few aspects of the meeting that did not come as a surprise. More anticipated was Merkel’s response to François Hollande’s pledge for a different growth policy in Europe. Merkel and Sarkozy previously agreed on the necessity to reduce European debts responsible for the economic instability. The European Pact for Stability has yet to be formally accepted by Brussels. Hollande campaigned in support for the European Pact for Stability but with an added growth policy.

Merkel, defending a more conservative and austere financial policy and an orthodox perspective of economics, formerly opposed every growth measure that would increase expenses and, therefore, an increase of the European sovereign debts.

Although her platform has not changed, she agreed that supporting growth couldn’t be avoided, as long as it was considered as “a general concept”. Hollande said that he was “in favor of budgetary seriousness, which meant being in favor of growth” because without growth the EU would not reach its goals. Merkel asserted that if an agreement on growth was found between the two leaders, it would only be on structural reforms that would promote growth, and not about new expenses.

Merkel and Sarkozy had managed to form a strong partnership, to the point where many labeled them with the portmanteau “Merkozy.” The two were even seen as a two-fold leader of the European Union. Merkel officially endorsed Nicolas Sarkozy during his second campaign and also refused to meet François Hollande before his inauguration.

Pragmatism prevailed and the tradition that has established France and Germany as two main foundations of Europe was stronger than political differences as she quickly reached out to Hollande after his Presidential victory.

 

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