- Barack Obama - diplomacy - economy - eurozone - François Hollande - G8
Hollande turns tide against Merkel's austerity
The world’s most powerful leaders held talks at the G8 summit on Saturday with the eurozone crisis top of their agenda. Francois Hollande’s call for growth won him some powerful allies as he battles against Germany’s insistence on austerity.
“An alliance for growth” was French daily newspaper Le Monde's depiction of the historic first meeting between new president François Hollande and his American counterpart Barack Obama.
Echoed by many other French media outlets, Le Monde's Saturday edition headline reflected the gaining momentum of Hollande‘s call to move away from austerity in tackling the ever-worsening eurozone crisis.
He was buoyed by the backing he received from Obama calling for a "strong growth agenda in Europe" as the two heads of state met for the first time at the White House on Friday.
"Even if the wording was general, it was important for Hollande," Le Monde said. "The head of state now has a heavyweight ally in his condemnation of austerity policies."
The new alliance, forged in a meeting lasting little over an hour, is a happy beginning for Hollande heading into this weekend’s G8 summit meeting of the world’s most powerful leaders at Camp David.
World leaders echo Hollande's call
France's new president has long insisted the gloom hanging over Europe’s economies can only be lifted if harsh belt-tightening policies demanded by Germany are complimented by measures to kick-start the eurozone’s ailing economies.
Following Obama’s ringing endorsement of Hollande’s ideas, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who met with Hollande for the first time on Friday evening, was the next to align himself with the French president, suggesting the two shared the same views on growth.
"There is no conflict between austerity and growth," Cameron told reporters. "You need to have a strong deficit reduction program in order to get growth. President Hollande believes that, and I believe that."
Cameron did, however, set up a future clash with Hollande over the Frenchman’s promise to introduce a Tobin Tax on financial transactions, saying he would not support the move.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also echoed Hollande’s call for more job-creating measures to help Europe out of the mire.
"We need to take action for growth while staying the course in terms of putting our public finances in order. Stability and growth go together. They are two sides of the same coin," he said.
Italy’s prime minister Mario Monti has already come out in support of growth measures to tackle a crisis that appears to be reaching a breaking point, with Greece heading toward an election that could throw its eurozone membership into question.
Merkel in danger of being isolated
When Hollande made a pre-election promise to tear up the European Union's fiscal pact, of which his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was so proud, it set the Socialist on course for a clash with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She insisted Europe must continue to take the poison when it comes to austerity.
But the sands now appear to be shifting in Hollande’s favour. Instead of the Frenchman looking like he's in over his head, it is his German counterpart who appears more likely to cut a lonely figure at Camp David.
"Germany is absolutely isolated," said Domenico Lombardi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, in an interview with Reuters news agency.
Lombardi said the dire situation of Greece has shifted the focus of the debate and heightened the need for a different solution to the crisis.
Even Obama sensed the growing pressure on Merkel, commenting she must have "things on her mind" after she responded to his greeting with a resigned shrug of her shoulders.
Hervé Favre, in an editorial for French paper La Voix du Nord, said with Obama’s backing Hollande could now “pile the pressure on Angela Merkel”.
After Camp David, Hollande’s crash course in diplomacy will continue at a two day NATO summit on Sunday and Monday where Afghanistan, Syria and Iran will all be on the agenda.
The French president then returns to Europe, where he will once again come face to face with Merkel at a European Summit in Brussels on May 23. After this weekend, it's possible he'll go into that meeting with his head held high.