French PM in Berlin pledges to push reforms

22nd September 2014, Comments 0 comments

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pledged on a Berlin visit Monday to push on with an economic reform package, which Chancellor Angela Merkel praised as "impressive".

"We will put the reforms in place to get France back on track," the Socialist premier told a joint press conference on his first official visit to Germany since taking office in late March.

Merkel, a champion of budget discipline and economic reform in Europe, said that "the prime minister told me about his impressive, ambitious reform programme", amid criticism the measures won't go far enough to get the country back on its feet.

France is struggling with zero growth and record unemployment and this month conceded it won't get its ballooning budget deficit down to the EU limit of three percent of gross domestic product until 2017.

Amid the economic woes, the unpopular government of President Francois Hollande and Valls is being challenged by the far-right National Front, which made huge strides in recent local and European parliamentary elections.

By contrast Merkel, now in her third term, scores consistently high approval ratings as the economy of export power Germany has largely recovered from the economic crisis and enjoys low unemployment.

Merkel said reforms are not an end in themselves but necessary to raise living standards and jobs, and that their success in France would be judged not by Berlin but by the European Commission.

Paris has demanded Germany, Europe's biggest economy, do more to promote growth and investment in the ailing eurozone, a point Valls reiterated Monday.

"Germany loves France when it sticks to its commitments, and France loves Germany when it knows how to understand France," Valls said.

"France will love a Germany that is committed to promoting growth in Europe."

Merkel, however, said that there are "plenty of opportunities to create growth without spending extra money".

She said both countries must make the "efforts that are necessary to make the euro a strong and durable currency, to drive growth in Europe and to reinforce the credibility of European resolutions, such as the Stability and Growth Pact".

-- France 'not sick child' --

Germany's media has been highly critical of France, long Germany's top partner in Europe, with mass-circulation daily Bild Monday dubbing the country called "Frankreich" in German "Krankreich", a play using the German word for "sick".

In the 1990's Germany had been dubbed "the sick man of Europe" but analysts and the press have recently awarded this title to France.

The Frankfurter Rundschau daily said before the meeting Valls would face a similar reception in Berlin as he did in France's National Assembly where his government last week narrowly survived a confidence vote.

"Confidence will be granted to him by gnashing one's teeth. But behind closed doors, the tone should be quite different," it said.

Valls said at the press conference that "I understand the doubts and questions of the German people," its political representatives and sometimes its press.

However, he stressed that France "is not the sick child of Europe".

Claire Demesmay of the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank earlier said that Berlin understands it is counterproductive to publicly criticise France.

"It's been very well understood that when Germany raises its voice, it mostly serves the National Front," she said.

Valls on his two-day trip travels on to the northern port city of Hamburg to visit a plant of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, a symbol of Franco-German cooperation.

He was also to meet Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, head of the centre-left Social Democrats who are the coalition partners to Merkel's conservatives.

© 2014 AFP

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