France's Hollande unconcerned if Europe against him

BERLIN/PARIS Sun Mar 4, 2012 9:53am EST

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the end of a European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the end of a European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Vidal

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BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande said on Sunday he was unconcerned by a report that conservative European leaders had agreed to shun his campaign and he vowed to stick with his plan to renegotiate an EU budget treaty.

German weekly magazine Spiegel reported that Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Italy's technocrat leader Mario Monti had agreed not to meet Hollande because of his opposition to the fiscal pact signed by 25 European leaders in Brussels last week.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who did not sign the treaty, later joined the agreement among the leaders of Europe's main powers, the magazine wrote, without citing sources.

A German government spokeswoman played down the report of a pact against Hollande -- who holds a comfortable lead in the polls ahead of France's two-round election in April and May.

"Every government leader decides for themselves whether they will meet Mr Hollande," the spokeswoman said.

She added that Merkel -- who has made public her support for French conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy -- had no plans at present to meet with Hollande in Berlin.

During a visit to London last week to seek support from French expatriate voters -- during which Hollande insisted he was not "dangerous" for the city's large financial sector -- the Socialist candidate met with British opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband but was not invited for talks with Cameron.

Hollande has said he has the support of left-wing governments in Belgium and Denmark and did not need backing from Europe's most conservative governments.

"I do not know if this information is accurate ... but it does not impress me," Hollande told France 3 television, asked about the Spiegel report. "It's quite natural that there should be an alliance of conservatives in favour of the conservative candidate in France.

"It's not the European leaders -- who I respect by the way -- who will influence the decision of the French people," he said. "We are a great nation, a great country which will not be told what to do by leaders who are friends but still outside our democracy."

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Graphic of polls, click on: r.reuters.com/was36s

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Hollande wants to renegotiate a new European fiscal discipline treaty -- spearheaded by Sarkozy and Merkel, but rejected by Cameron -- to add clauses on growth and solidarity.

Merkel has thrown her support behind Sarkozy, as she worries about the prospect of France being run by a man whose campaign one of her legislators termed a "leftist anachronism." The chancellor would also be loath to lose the momentum she has built up with Sarkozy in tackling Europe's debt crisis.

Hollande said on Sunday he was aware that he would need to work with EU leaders as partners if he is elected.

"I will be very keen to convince them to add a growth element to the European treaty," he told France 3.

The spokeswoman for Sarkozy's campaign, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said Hollande should not be surprised that Merkel did not want to meet with him given that he had backed her domestic opponents and was seeking to unravel her European strategy.

"He is trying to invent a plot when there is simply a lack of credibility," Kosciusko-Morizet said.

Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, meanwhile, said the reported pact was evidence that France was becoming a battleground between Left and Right in Europe.

"The conservatives are closing ranks to try to defend their front line in France because they know very well that if it is breached in France there will be contagion," he told Europe 1 radio. "They have every reason to be fearful. They are about to get the lesson they deserve because I think France will expel Nicolas Sarkozy from the presidency."

(Additional reporting by Holger Hansen in Berlin and Sophie Louet in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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