He is seen as lackluster and relatively unknown in Germany, but François Hollande, the Socialist Party challenger of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, stands a good chance of being elected president on May 6. He is the man German Chancellor Angela Merkel fears, because he could jeopardize her European legacy. Hollande wants to renegotiate the fiscal pact to save the euro adopted in December by 25 European Union member states. This is one of the reasons Merkel openly supports Sarkozy and has refused to meet with his challenger in Berlin so far. Hollande, 57, was the first secretary of the Socialist Party from 1997 to 2008. Without ever having held a cabinet position or served as prime minister, he would be only the second leftist president of the Fifth Republic, after former President François Mitterrand, under whom Hollande began his career in 1981.
Hollande: To Berlin, to see Chancellor Angela Merkel.
SPIEGEL: Does that mean that if Mrs. Merkel didn't want to see you before the election, she'll have to meet with you afterwards?
Hollande: I don't force anyone. I simply indicated my availability (to Merkel) in case the possibility to meet before the election could have been given to us. That wasn't possible. I understand Mrs. Merkel's reasons, given that she supports the incumbent.
SPIEGEL: Did you receive a formal rejection from her office?
Hollande: No, but I don't think it makes sense to insist. I let it be known that I would be willing to meet, and there was no reaction.
SPIEGEL: A humiliating rejection.
Hollande: Of course, the chancellor can decide for herself which attitude she wants to adopt during the election campaign in a large partner country like France. I also understand that Mrs. Merkel supports Mr. Sarkozy, given that they're in the same conservative family of parties. What counts is that we, as democratically elected leaders, are capable of establishing good relations between our countries in the event of my victory.
SPIEGEL: So you truly have no hard feelings?
Hollande: None. Sarkozy and Merkel have been working together with more or less ease, and it's my impression that they ended up finding an equilibrium in their relationship. However, when it comes to the fiscal pact, for which the two are responsible, there is no doubt that Mrs. Merkel has had greater influence than Mr. Sarkozy.
SPIEGEL: You have antagonized the chancellor by demanding a renegotiation of the European Union fiscal pact, which obligated the member states to impose austerity measures. If you are elected, could your first meeting end up being a little embarrassing?
Hollande: It won't be embarrassing for anyone. For me, it will be an opportunity to tell her exactly what I want: a reorientation of Europe in the direction of more growth. This is a necessity that the fiscal pact doesn't take into account.
SPIEGEL: Does this mean that you would behave like a defiant winner? Or would you more likely be eating humble pie?
Hollande: Neither. I have great respect for Mrs. Merkel, as well as for the German people, who, as we know, will go to the polls themselves in September 2013. And everyone knows that I, as a Socialist, have good connections to (Germany's center-left) Social Democratic Party.
SPIEGEL: You haven't just upset Mrs. Merkel, but also the heads of other European governments. Aren't you worried about becoming something of a pariah in Europe?
Hollande: Listen, no! I'm just on my way to visit Polish President (Bronislaw) Komorowski, and I've already met with President Georgio Napolitano in Italy. I've had meetings in Brussels with the president of the European Commission and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Should I go on?
SPIEGEL: We're talking about those who don't want to meet with you. Our report that Mrs. Merkel and other leaders don't want to see you has caused a stir in France.
Hollande: I didn't write that article in SPIEGEL - you can bear witness to that. At any rate, it had two effects. First, the French asked themselves why this intention existed. Second, it led to denials. But it isn't foreign leaders who will decide the elections for the French people. Perhaps these people did me a service without knowing it.
SPIEGEL: (Former conservative French Prime Minister) Dominique de Villepin called the chancellor's support for Sarkozy "the kiss of death."
Hollande: I really didn't ask Mrs. Merkel to arrange my eventual election in this way. But now everyone knows my position on the fiscal pact, and on the day after the election they will have to take it into account. If I become president, France will not continue with the same policies as under Nicolas Sarkozy -- both in domestic policy and in foreign and European policy.
SPIEGEL: And so now you're campaigning in France as the candidate who is confronting Germany.
Hollande: I'm also the candidate who knows that the German-French friendship is indispensable for Europe. And I will never let myself be carried away to making statements that would change it.
SPIEGEL: But they've already been made. Your fellow Socialist Party member Arnaud Montebourg said: "The question of German nationalism is returning through the Bismarckian policies Mrs. Merkel pursues." Do you distance yourself from that?
Hollande: I think (former German Chancellor) Helmut Schmidt came up with the best response at the SPD's (recent) party conference. Our two peoples, our political elites, cannot fall back into nationalism. We have to be careful not to be to be too arrogant, which is a tendency the French can also sometimes have. And a large country with such outstanding economic performance as Germany cannot forget that it owes some of its success to demand from other European countries.
Very Presidential. Some balance to German domination of the EU is badly needed and Mr Hollande offers better propsects that Sarkozy who in the end became Merkel's lap dog. The French people deserve a true leader. more...
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