Hollande starts presidency with diplomatic dance

Obama has been keeping a close eye on the situation in Europe, which could create a domino effect directly affecting the direction of the American economy.

Hollande and Obama 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hollande and Obama 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
FONTVIEILLE, France – Recently elected French President François Hollande continued over the weekend in Washington a diplomatic ballet begun in Berlin last Tuesday, just a few hours after his inauguration at the Elysée Palace in Paris.
His first visit as head of state was to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he tried to convince to renegotiate the EU budget agreement. He wasn’t able to spend much time at home – only one day – before flying abroad again for a series of meetings and summits in the US.
US President Barack Obama was surprised by the socialist’s election victory on May 6. Until the first round of the presidential vote on April 22, Obama had been sure that the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy would be reelected.
Obama asked the new French president to visit him on Friday at the White House before the G8 summit that begin that evening at Camp David and continued on Saturday.
Hollande traveled with his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, and had lunch with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Their status as an unmarried couple created a protocol headache for Washington staffers, not accustomed to this sort of situation.
The two presidents discussed the issue of economic growth, which according to Hollande must be “a priority.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti also expressed a desire to redirect the economic policies of his country away from austerity and toward growth.
Obama has been keeping a close eye on the situation in Europe, which could create a domino effect directly affecting the direction of the American economy.
After a 90-minute talk, Hollande told journalists that his US counterpart “may have indicated a convergence of feeling with Paris.”
Obama said at the same press conference that the summit evoked “a responsible approach to austerity budgets coupled with energetic measures for growth.”
Also on the table, both in Washington and at Camp David, was the question of the withdrawal of NATO soldiers from Afghanistan, which is planned for the end of 2014, but which the new French administration wants to advance for its own contingent to the end of 2012.
“The withdrawal is not negotiable; it is a French decision, and this French decision will be implemented,” Hollande said.
The G8 conference began with a working dinner focusing on the Iranian nuclear program (coming ahead of the second round of discussions with Tehran in Baghdad on Tuesday), as well as the North Korean nuclear program and the violence in Syria.
However, the most serious and urgent question to be discussed in Washington and at Camp David was the economic situation in Greece.
Hollande said that Obama and he had “the same conviction that Greece must remain in the euro zone.”
New French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Friday that “we must help Greece to find growth again and not just to pay its debt.”
A day after Hollande chose Ayrault as prime minister, he presented his cabinet composed of 34 ministers and deputy ministers, with portfolios equally divided between men and women.
Former prime minister Laurent Fabius was appointed foreign minister and Pierre Moscovici was appointed minister of finance.
The first secretary of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, who was expecting to be nominated prime minister, preferred in the end not to join the government.
The G8 summit will be followed by the NATO summit in Chicago, which begins on Sunday and continues on Monday.
After his busy international first week in office, Hollande will find himself having to deal with domestic affairs, which he only started to address on his first day by issuing an order cutting his salary and that of his ministers by 30 percent. The ministers also had to sign “a charter of good behavior” meant to distance the new government from the Sarkozy years.