Hollande's camp sharpens tone before Merkel meet
PARIS (Reuters) - French Socialists said on Sunday that austerity was pushing the European Union toward economic ruin and warned Germany to accept changes to a budgetary treaty, raising tensions days before president-elect Francois Hollande takes a maiden trip to Berlin.
Hollande, who will be sworn in as president on May 15, is due to take off shortly after the ceremony to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his first trip abroad designed to highlight the continuity of Franco-German relations.
Merkel has said the trip would not yield any political decisions and both leaders, who have never met, have described it as a low-key encounter to get acquainted and share views on the European situation before a summit of leaders in late June.
But Hollande's party, which may rely on support from Greens and the far-left to govern, raised the stakes and piled pressure on the new president to act tough by vilifying Merkel's leadership and pounding home the need to re-examine the pact.
"She (Merkel) cannot be the sole decider of Europe's fate based on German interests," Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said on France 3 television.
"We did not vote for there to be a president of the European Union named Mrs. Merkel who decides on the fate of all others."
As the Socialist Party prepares for parliamentary elections on June 10 and 17, pressure has grown on Hollande to sound tough in early exchanges with Merkel so he can prove to voters that France intends to make its pro-growth views heard in Europe.
Adding to the party's arguments against German-led austerity are political uncertainty in Greece, warning signs over Spain's economy and a looming election defeat for Merkel's conservatives in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Yet Merkel, who remains popular at home, has stood firm against the idea of restarting talks on the hard-fought pact, rejecting calls for economic stimulus and urging partners to enact structural reforms instead.
"What we are saying, and we want Mrs. Merkel to hear this message, is that we will renegotiate the treaty, or it will not be not ratified, and that is all."
Asked whether there was a risk of a clash with Germany, Hamon said: "Who is risking a clash if not Mrs. Merkel, who is pushing forward the date of ratification of this text by the German parliament and is asking the Italians to do the same?"
Three days before Hollande unveils his cabinet, with Germanophile Jean-Marc Ayrault a likely pick for prime minister, 2007 presidential candidate Segolene Royal also waded into the debate calling for the European Central Bank to support growth.
"Do we need to renegotiate? That's the objective we are pursuing because we think that we have to change the rules of the game for the European central bank in this treaty and put in place tools for growth," she told Europe 1 radio.
(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur Editing by Maria Golovnina)
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