The Financial Times: “Fear Grows of Greece Leaving Euro.” Not sure fear is the word for it. Der Spiegel is calling for Greece’s exit on its cover, and opinion in Greece might best be described as fluid. (More background on the fallout from Greek and French elections is in our latest issue from Colleague Petrou. As always during a Euro crisis — a phrase I could usefully shorten to “as always” — attention turns to the German-French directorate, now featuring a new player.
François Hollande will be sworn in as France’s new president on Tuesday. After that he’ll announce the name of his new prime minister, drop by Paris City Hall to be fêted by the city’s Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë, then hop a flight to Berlin. He becomes the second French president to visit Berlin on his inauguration day, after Nicolas Sarkozy. Both times Angela Merkel has played host.
It’s possible to portray Tuesday’s meeting as a Merkel-Hollande showdown, but the real event is likelier to be more genteel. First, it’s in the nature of the Franco-German relationship that Presidents and Chancellors are doomed to work together. Second, neither player is made for high-stakes confrontation. Hollande, whose longtime political nickname is Flanby after a popular bland vanilla pudding, has reaffirmed his commitment to Sarkozy’s deficit target, even though Sarkozy did nothing serious to meet it and it’s on track to be overshot by one-third. He could have stayed mum about the target. He hasn’t been saying much about anything, a welcome change from his chatterbox predecesor. But he chose to make this statement. Which suggests he’s not the all-points enemy of fiscal rigour that some fear.
Meanwhile Merkel will be in a contrite mood after Sunday, when her Christian Democrats got soundly beat by the anti-austerity Social Democrats in regional parliamentary elections. So it’s starting to look like, when you add up the opponents of Germany’s austerity line, you can include Germans. Even before today’s electoral setback Merkel was indicating a bit of flexibility on fiscal discipline.
So the outlines of a Tuesday-night joint statement, featuring commitment to fiscal targets and a recognition of the importance of growth, start to take shape. The Merkel-Hollande relationship will be well begun. Will that end Europe’s crisis? No. How can that happen? I don’t know.