France’s Francois Hollande, Germany’s Merkel hold cordial meeting

May 16, 2012
By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles TimesPARIS — France’s new president, Francois Hollande, andGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel have opposing ideas of how to solve Europe‘s crippling public debt crisis — she austerity, he spending and growth — so a clash was in the cards Tuesday.

Instead, Hollande’s welcome to Berlin just hours after he took office was brisk but warm, even if he was late for dinner. Hollande — whose initial flight to Berlin was hit by lightning, causing him to briefly return to an air base outside Paris to switch planes — and Merkel met for an hour before dining together.

Last week, Hollande, 57, defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on a promise to renegotiate Merkel’s prized pact enshrining public spending limits throughout the European Union. He believes in spending and investment to encourage growth.

Observers described the atmosphere at the Berlin meeting as cordial but awkward.

At an after-dinner news conference, Merkel joked that the lightning strike, which did not cause any injuries, was a good omen for their future relationship.

“We have quite an intensive agenda in terms of European questions,” she said.

The two leaders said they had talked about Greece and reiterated their hope that the financially stricken country will remain in the Eurozone, the 17-nation group that uses the euro.

Hollande spoke of “balance in the Franco-German relationship” and brought up the thorny subject of renegotiating the fiscal pact to encourage growth.

Earlier, Hollande, nicknamed Monsieur Normal, was inaugurated as the 24th president of France at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

The first Socialist leader of the country in 17 years arrived for his swearing-in just in time after crossing Paris by car, stopping at traffic lights en route and even waiting in a traffic jam.

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