French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault sought on Friday to calm tensions with Berlin, insisting Paris was not seeking to isolate Chancellor Angela Merkel as it seeks new solutions to the eurozone debt crisis.
New French President Francois Hollande is eager to show that he can hold his ground against Merkel as he tries to shift Europe’s focus towards reviving growth and away from German-imposed austerity, where for years Paris stood alongside Berlin. The Socialist has also sought alliances with leaders in Rome and Madrid and, breaking with protocol, has met senior members of the German opposition. Ayrault, a former German teacher, denied that France was trying to form a united front with Italy and Spain against Merkel and austerity. Asked on Europe 1 radio if France was seeking such a thing, Ayrault replied: “Absolutely not. That would be the wrong way. That is absolutely not my position nor that of France.”
On a visit to Rome on Thursday, Hollande called for the eurozone to consider new financial instruments like jointly-underwritten bonds and EU bailouts for banks, placing him at odds with Merkel who has rejected such ideas as “miracle solutions”. He is due to lay out his position at a June 22 meeting in Rome with Merkel and the prime ministers of Italy and Spain, a week ahead of an end-June EU summit to adopt new measures to strengthen growth and financial stability.
Asked if he had a message for Merkel, Ayrault said in German: “We have a joint responsibility to give a future to Europe.” A month into his presidency, Hollande took the risk of offending Germany’s centre-right chancellor by inviting the left-wing opposition leaders to the Elysee palace to discuss eurozone policy. A new president would normally play host to the chancellor before the opposition. Ayrault said that it was not out of order for Paris to have contacts with the opposition because Merkel would need a majority when German lawmakers vote on the eurozone’s fiscal compact later this month. Hollande is hoping France’s left will win a large parliamentary majority at the second round of general elections on Sunday, something that would strengthen his hand in pushing eurozone policy in the direction he favours.