Hollande assures Berlin France will stick to reforms

31st March 2015, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande insisted on a visit to Berlin Tuesday that France would stick to its reform course despite his Socialist party's setback in local elections.

Hollande told a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that support for investment as well as social justice by promoting employment would be his main priorities.

"The course has been set and will be stuck to," Hollande said.

France's ruling Socialists took a drubbing in local run-off elections Sunday, which saw major gains for former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the far-right ahead of 2017 presidential elections.

Conservative parties, spearheaded by Sarkozy's UMP, won a thumping victory, seen by analysts as a bad omen for Hollande two years ahead of a presidential election, with the far-right also growing in power.

Asked about the election results following a regular Franco-German ministerial meeting in the German capital, Hollande conceded that voters had expressed their sentiments in the vote, and that those sentiments would have to be taken into account.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls "has already outlined some elements," Hollande said.

"The government will provide its responses, but within the framework of what we have pledged to do and which is beginning to bear fruit," he said.

The local elections were marked by gains by the far-right National Front (FN), but Hollande insisted that populism and extremism "aren't just a problem for France," but for Europe as a whole, and he said it was "absolutely indispensable" to counter it.

"We have a joint responsibility," he said. "Mine is to ensure that France succeeds, that France can advance social justice and while at the same time make progress in allowing companies to create jobs.

"My two priorities are to support investment and social justice promoting employment," the French leader said.

- Joint investment projects -

At the Franco-German meeting, the two governments unveiled a list of joint investment projects, primarily in the areas of energy and digital technology.

The projects are part of a wider investment plan by the European Commission in Brussels to boost growth in Europe.

"The digital economy and the energy sector are two central areas where Germany and France want to cooperate more closely in future," said Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel in a statement.

"That is an important contribution to modernising and deepening European integration."

The two sides had identified nine projects in the areas of venture capital, intelligent networks, renewable energy, energy efficiency, electro-mobility, Gabriel said, without providing any concrete details.

In 2014, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled a massive European investment drive to kick-start growth and employment in the euro area.

- Time pressing for Greece -

Turning to the subject of Greece and the current negotiations between Athens and its creditors on the terms of the massive international bailout, both Merkel and Hollande said time was pressing.

"A start has been made, (but) there is no time to lose," Merkel said.

She noted it is now important to wait for the assessment of experts from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, who are scrutinising a list of economic reforms proposed by Athens before unlocking another 7.2 billion euros ($7.8 billion) in loans to stave off possible bankruptcy and a euro exit.

Hollande agreed.

"We've lost a lot of time and must now try to make up for it," he said.

Both Merkel and Hollande said they were not concerned about a pending visit by Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras to Moscow.

"We've also been to Moscow and are still members of the EU," Merkel said.

European governments "can visit Moscow without that being a problem for Europe," Hollande agreed.

Initially, the Greek premier had planned a Moscow trip on May 9 for Russia's annual Victory Day parade, which this year will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II.

But he brought forward his visit by a month to April, as Greece faces mounting pressure from its European creditors and a cash shortage.

© 2015 AFP

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