Thomas Klau, Ulrike Guérot e Sebastian Dullien sul Financial Times sulle decisioni di politica economica di Francia e Germania

Thomas Klau, Direttore dell’Ufficio di Parigi di ECFR, Ulrike Guérot, Representative for Germany e ECFR Senior Policy Fellow, e Sebastian Dullien, ECFR Senior Policy Fellow, commentano le probabili risposte di François Hollande e Angela Merkel in termini di governance economica dell’UE, a partire dalle conclusioni del vertice informale di Bruxelles del 23 maggio scorso.

Hollande hardens line on links with Merkel, Financial Times

When François Hollande emerged from his first EU summit early on Thursday, apart from joking about how some of his fellow leaders talked too much, he did something unusual for a French president: he stressed his differences with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Nicolas Sarkozy, his centre-right predecessor, tended to emphasise where Paris and Berlin agreed, in order to cement their joint European leadership and to send a signal of unity over their stewardship of the crisis-hit eurozone.



But since taking office 10 days ago, the socialist Mr Hollande has changed the tune, seeking to rally support on the European and international stage for his election campaign calls for action to stimulate growth. This has included touting proposals sharply at odds with entrenched German positions, such as his support for common eurozone bonds to help fund heavily indebted single currency members. “For now, Germany’s line of thinking is that eurobonds, if I give the most optimistic version, could only be an end point, whereas for us they are a starting point,” he told a press conference after the summit. According to officials briefed on the late-night session in Brussels, Mr Hollande was as tough with Ms Merkel behind closed doors as he was in public, taking her on directly on the issue of eurozone bonds in the round-table discussions. Happily for Mr Hollande, his push for a swing away from concentrating on German-led austerity policies has chimed with other leaders alarmed by Europe’s stalling economy – including President Barack Obama. A senior Italian policy maker said of last weekend’s US-hosted G8 summit at Camp David: “For the first time Ms Merkel had the whole table against her, pushing in another direction. That has not happened before.” But to what extent has Mr Hollande really changed the game in Europe’s approach to the current crisis? The new president, acutely conscious of resentment at home among some voters against Germany’s perceived dominance, has made a deliberate move to put some distance between himself and Berlin ahead of national assembly elections due next month in which he badly needs to win a majority. Instead of pow-wowing with Ms Merkel ahead of Wednesday night’s summit, as Mr Sarkozy had done with regularity, Mr Hollande met Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, a small but symbolic change.

And while Mr Sarkozy always made a point to walk into the EU summit room with Ms Merkel, Mr Hollande entered with Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, leaving Ms Merkel to promenade with Janez Jansa, the Slovenian PM. But some analysts say the new president’s approach is unlikely to last, especially as tensions are again mounting in the eurozone over a possible Greek exit from the single currency. “I see a small manoeuvre by Hollande to put Merkel in difficulty, but I don’t think it will work. He doesn’t have a magic formula,” says Jean-Dominique Giuliani, head of the Robert Schuman Foundation.

France’s own high levels of debt, big trade deficit and severely degraded industrial competitiveness inevitably weaken its position against Germany “France objectively faces a far greater risk than Germany that the markets will lose confidence in its ability to refinance its debt,” wrote Ulrike Guérot and Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank. “This reduces France’s room for manoeuvre and makes it imperative for French policy makers to sustain the perception that they form part of a block with Germany rather than with Italy or Spain.” In crisis, the EU also needs the Franco-German partnership to drive decision making, argues Mr Giuliani. “If Germany and France don’t agree things before council meetings it is very difficult to make decisions.” Mr Hollande looks set to chalk up some successes. A so-called “growth compact” – EU project bonds, increased funds for the European Investment Bank, swifter payments of EU development funds – had been championed by the European Commission for months. Most could be achieved in time for a two-day summit in June. Progress towards a “banking union”, which would see eurozone-wide funds for deposit guarantees and bank recapitalisation, has also been pushed up on the agenda thanks to an alliance between Mr Hollande and Mr Monti. But senior EU officials believe Mr Hollande is to a significant extent tilting at windmills. Ms Merkel has refused to budge on eurozone bonds. “At the moment an immediate compromise is very unlikely,” said Sebastien Dullien of the ECFR. “The change of mood does not matter as long as the Germans feel they are not being isolated. Germany is the veto player. You won’t see any move on eurobonds until Germany moves.”


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