16 May 2012

New French president stresses need for growth

3:08 pm on 16 May 2012

The new French president has stressed the need for growth in Europe at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Francois Hollande flew to Berlin to meet the Mrs Merkel hours after taking office on Tuesday, but not before his plane was apparently hit by lightning and he was forced to turn back to Paris and board another plane.

At the top of their agenda was the crisis in debt-laden Greece, which has failed to form a government following an election on 6 May and is set to hold fresh elections in June.

Mr Hollande says he opposes the austerity policies backed Mrs Merkel. Whilst he accepts that deficits need to be cut, he wants to introduce projects that will stimulate Europe's economy, the BBC reports.

Mrs Merkel said they want to keep Greece within the eurozone, but Mr Hollande said nothing must be off-limits at a forthcoming European summit.

"All this has to be put on the table - anything that can contribute to growth. Improving competitivity, investment for the future, mobilising funds, eurobonds ... everything has to be examined and then we'll draw the conclusions."

The Germans are willing to see European Union funds invested in infrastructure projects; what they are opposed to is funding growth through extra government spending that drives up debt.

According to official figures released on Tuesday, the French economy showed no growth in the first quarter of 2012. Growth in the final quarter of 2011 was also revised down to 0.1% from 0.2%.

However, Germany's economy grew by a stronger than expected 0.5% in the first three months of the year.

Earlier, Francois Hollande was sworn in for a five-year term at the Elysee Palace in Paris, becoming the country's first Socialist president in 17 years.

In his inauguration speech, Mr Hollande said he wished to deliver a "message of confidence".

"My mandate is to bring France back to justice, open up a new path in Europe, contribute to world peace and preserve the planet."

He said he was fully aware of challenges facing France, which he summarised as "huge debt, weak growth, reduced competitiveness, and a Europe that is struggling to emerge from a crisis".

Following his German trip, Mr Hollande will hold his first Cabinet meeting on Thursday followed by a visit to Washington to meet United States President Barack Obama on Friday.