The World from Berlin: 'Hollande Could Be a Better Partner than Sarkozy'

Chancellor Merkel's fear that Socialist candidate François Hollande might win the French election came true on Sunday. While their differing politics have some warning of difficult French-German relations to come, German editorialists argue Monday that the pragmatic politicians will make it work.

Activists perform a fake marriage between French president-elect François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Zoom
AFP

Activists perform a fake marriage between French president-elect François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

It was the victory that both Angela Merkel and the markets had feared: French voters on Sunday night elected François Hollande, who has pledged to halt Europe's austerity measures and renegotiate the European Union's fiscal pact, as their next president. In Greece, too, voters clearly rejected the savings policies at the center of efforts to combat the debt and euro crisis.

The markets mirrored concerns about Europe's future on Monday morning, with Germany's blue chip DAX index falling by 2 percent, the Paris stock market down by 1.6 percent and Greece's exchange down by more than 7 percent. The European EuroStoxx index fell by 2 percent. Asian markets reacted with similar concerns about the euro following Hollande's victory and the failure of Greece's two main parties to secure a majority.

One major worry is the question of how well Merkel and Hollande will be able to work together, though both leaders moved on Sunday night to assuage such fears. Although the conservative chancellor had publicly expressed her support for incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, she has also made overtures to Socialist candidate Hollande since it became clear he was likely to win. Merkel called Hollande on Sunday night to congratulate the president-elect, and both agree close German-French ties remain important, the chancellor's spokesman said. Merkel also invited Hollande to visit Berlin as quickly as possible after he is sworn in on May 15.

But Merkel's party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) issued words of warning to Hollande, saying that the president-elect should clarify that he will not follow through with his campaign promise to change the European Union fiscal pact, a deal reached earlier this year that forces signatories to anchor balanced-budget measures in their constitutions and halt deficit spending in order to stabilize the common currency.

"We all want sustainable growth in Europe," said Andreas Schockenhoff, the deputy head of CDU's parliamentary group. "But stability policies and budget discipline cannot suffer as a result of that -- otherwise we can expect a new phase of nervousness on the markets. Hollande needs to make it quickly and unmistakably clear that the fiscal pact will not be changed."

Cooperation Likely to Continue

Hollande's campaign platforms also included a pledge to negotiate a new Elysée Treaty, the 1963 agreement that provides the foundations of Franco-German relations. At a campaign event in January, Hollande said Europe needs to focus more strongly on growth and the two countries need to create a new cooperation in the areas of business, industry and energy.

"Regardless of who the president of France is, our countries are linked very closely and trustingly," Schockenhoff said, adding that he was certain that Hollande would continue on the path taken by outgoing president Sarkozy towards a European stability union.

The German government has also indicated it will seek close ties with Hollande. "We want to work very closely together with the new president," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Sunday night. "Together we want to work to overcome the debt crisis. We have a fiscal pact. Now we want to add a growth pact to increase competitiveness."

German President Joachim Gauck, whose power is limited but serves as a moral compass for the country, said he believed close cooperation with France would not be interrupted by Hollande's election. "I am certain that Germany and France will also continue and deepen excellent bilateral relations that are unique in the world," Gauck wrote in a letter of congratulation on Sunday night. The EU's major challenges can only be successfully addressed through policies of responsibility and solidarity, he added.

German commentators on Monday agreed that worries about cooperation between Hollande and Merkel have been exaggerated. Merkel may lead a conservative party, they write, but she also has plenty of experience governing with the Social Democrats, Germany's equivalent of Hollande's Socialist Party.

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Of course Merkel is not naïve enough to believe that Socialism will break out in France with Hollande's election -- even if her party, Germany's conservative Christian Democrats have massively fuelled that impression with their support for President Sarkozy in recent weeks. But Merkel wouldn't be Merkel if she weren't capable of quickly shifting course. And she also knows that a campaign pledge made by Socialist candidate won't necessarily become a government policy. For four years, Merkel served as the chancellor of a grand coalition government. She negotiated with the Social Democrats and also governed with them. She didn't have any ideological problems with the Social Democrats, even if they are called Socialists."

"Hollande isn't going to call for any revolution. He will have to learn and adapt himself, just as Merkel has had to do in the two years of the Greek crisis. Even in the past, it is not as if European crisis policy were a solo effort by Merkel and Sarkozy. The symbiosis of the two under the label Merkozy had more to do with marketing than political consensus. Nevertheless, the change of power in France does in fact weaken Germany's position in the euro crisis. Hollande is on the side of those who support providing Greece and other ailing euro-zone countries with more aid. The chancellor and those around her are getting lonelier."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The German government shouldn't worry itself about the new French president. Instead, it should worry more about France itself. The election has revealed a reorganization of the political forces in the country. Growth and the struggle against debt have been made into a politically charged dichotomy."

"The proportion of French people who reject austerity measures and a halt to the redistribution of wealth goes far beyond the 30 percent who voted for the far-right and far-left in the first round of the presidential election. If Hollande is not able to resist the hard core who want to rack up even more debt, then the Franco-German partnership will collapse. France would head toward the southern euro-zone model, which -- from the German perspective -- leads to protectionism and inflation, while Germany would be accused of hindering the recovery through excessive austerity, ruining the economy and jobs, turning the European Central Bank into a fortress of stability and as a result bearing responsibility for political radicalization in impoverished countries where citizens don't know where to turn."

"The saying that nothing happens in Europe without France is accurate. But what can be achieved with a France that psychologically represses the consequences of globalization, toys with the idea of a fundamentally different monetary policy and considers austerity to be a Teutonic vice?"

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"By opposing Hollande with such unusual openness, the Chancellor gave him the opportunity to distinguish himself at Germany's cost. Hollande, generally very careful, exploited the situation gratefully to distinguish himself from the image of Sarkozy as playing the role of loyal assistant to Germany."

"The fact that the relationship between Merkel and Hollande will be complicated to begin with is all the more frustrating because the latter only gradually assumed a different position from his predecessor on matters of debt reduction and growth. The impression of Hollande in Germany, thanks somewhat to Merkel, is of a ridiculous caricature."

"Unquestionably, Hollande represents the archaic and orthodox view that growth necessarily results from state intervention. But the fundamental difference with Sarkozy is that the outgoing president placed more emphasis on spending cuts than on taxes in his attempt to reduce debt. Like Sarkozy, Hollande will prioritize the task of reducing his country's deficit. And just as it was for Sarkozy, he will have trouble achieving his goal unless he unveils a savings plan after the parliamentary election in June."

"Never before has France elected such a moderate Social Democrat. And after all, Merkel has already proven that she can work together well with Social Democrats."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Sarkozy showed supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his own voters that he shared their resentment towards foreigners and Muslims. The boundaries between the established right wing and the far-right have become blurred."

"During his campaign, François Hollande demonstrated that, in terms of rhetoric, he was a match for Sarkozy. He now has too prove that he is more than a stopgap solution. 'Anti-sarkozyism' was an electoral tool but it is not a political program. Nonetheless, he has kept his main promise: Removing Sarkozy from power."

"With his calls for an EU Growth Pact, his campaign has also sparked some movement within Europe. The new president is no less convinced of the importance and greatness of France than his predecessor. But his brand of socialism offers an alternative to the dominant economic liberalism. In the future Angela Merkel can expect fewer kisses from Hollande than Sarkozy. Behind his jovial and gregarious nature he is a man who knows exactly what he wants. Otherwise he would not have become president."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Hollande and Sarkozy allowed themselves to be infected by the radicals. … Fine, it was an election campaign. But now the clever Hollande can begin with pragmatic, Europe-friendly policies. He certainly doesn't want to destroy the euro. The fears that many have about him are exaggerated. Naturally, the Socialist will insist on broadening the EU's economization policies with a growth strategy, but that has long been the prevailing opinion and will no longer be challenged by the chancellor."

"Angela Merkel dismissed Hollande during the campaign and focused on a victory from Sarkozy. … But Hollande could prove to be the better partner. Unlike 'Merkozy,' the new duo 'Merklande' covers both the conservative, pro-business and the social democratic sides of Europe. As a coalition they could ensure that German-French standards will be accepted by other countries. A rapprochement with Hollande will protect the chancellor from becoming an isolated hegemon within the EU. With Hollande, Merkel is getting a partner with whom she can tackle Europe's challenges -- financial restructuring for members and creating a social model that can survive in the new world."

-- Daryl Lindsey

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