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France's Hollande lets down austerity-weary Spain

Reactions to French President François Hollande's first official visit to Spain show a leader once seen as a champion of pro-growth policies and an enemy of German-backed austerity is now disheartening many debt-weary Spaniards.


President François Hollande has announced a bilateral Franco-Spanish summit on October 10 after meeting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid. But many in Spain are beginning to question the French leader’s willingness to stand with them against potentially crippling German-inspired austerity measures.

After Hollande’s approval rating took a dive in France this summer, he has now disheartened some Spaniards who believed he would be an ally in ending the EU’s current austerity drive.

“Rajoy and I agree that the euro is irreversible,” Hollande said at a joint press conference with the Spanish leader at the end of this first official visit to the country as France’s president on Thursday. However, Hollande had little to say about economic stimulus measures, or the so-called growth pact cobbled together by European leaders last June. For many in Spain, the visit confirmed what they already feared.

Caving in to Germany

“No more tirades against ‘deadly austerity’ or demands for growth policies… Hollande seems to have raised a white flag in the face of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and has decided to return to the path set out by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy,” wrote the left-leaning Spanish daily El Pais before the high-level meeting.

“Whoever thought the rescue of Spain would be softer because of Hollande has been proven wrong,” wrote Cristina Vallejo in an opinion piece titled "The Hollande Disappointment” in the Spanish online financial daily

The close relationship between Sarkozy and Merkel – especially in their collective response to Europe’s debt woes – earned the leaders the moniker ‘Merkozy’.

Many thought Hollande’s victory over Sarkozy in France’s May 6 presidential election would turn the tide on the German chancellor’s strict recipe of budgetary discipline and spending cuts.

But a new pro-growth alignment led by Hollande and seconded by a new pack of southern European heads-of-state, including Rajoy, has failed to materialize. In fact, the Paris-Berlin consensus feared by debt-weary Spain, Italy and Greece appeared to get new wings this week when the finance ministers of France and Germany unveiled a new bilateral working group to tackle the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said the new union was proof of the two countries’ desire to improve their cooperation, adding that the group would deal with “implementing decisions made on Greece and Spain.”

No champion of the South

Moscovici’s declarations spurred worried responses from France’s southern neighbour. “Until now, Hollande seemed to be the champion of growth, the enemy of austerity and the spokesman of the left and the south. But today he seems less inclined to defend Greece in Spain against the fundamentalism of the Bundesbank,” El Pais wrote.

Hollande had stern words Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras last week when the latter was visiting Paris. Samaras was touring Europe’s capital to plead for more time to implement the EU-IMF imposed budget cuts.

For many, Hollande’s declaration echoed accusatory comments by Merkel and served as proof that the French president had chosen to adopt the chancellor’s tough stance.

Rajoy insists Spain is not another Greece and should not be treated as such, but Spain is the next European country expected to request a full financial bailout in the next weeks or months. The Spanish leader was scheduled to meet Germany’s Merkel on September 6.


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