The Community vision of the French President François Hollande: Part II Jean-Marc Ayrault
François Hollande

The Franco-German relationship in the Hollande’s presidency

A part of the French political analysts believes that the Franco-German pole consolidated by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (two right political figures which shared the same conviction in order to combat the crisis by the implementation of the austerity plan) will change. Now, France is tempted to turn its attention to the Southern European countries, which have better understood that the Community and the national economic salvation can be achieved only through a new strategy for growth and development.

In this sense, the “Der Tagesspiegel” German newspaper associated the Hollande’s victory with a distance that will be produced between France and Germany; France symbolically leaving the Northern Europe to the South in terms of budgetary discipline, while Germany remaining with too few allies in this regard. However, the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” newspaper assumed that "No matter how important is the position of France in making Europe advance; it is not strong enough to impose its will over other heavy points." (Presidentielle, 2012).

In the same vein, François Hollande advocates a balanced Franco-German relationship, indispensable in his opinion to implement a "federalism of the projects” in the European Union in order to ensure a community’s better economic health, based on “equality and respect.” (Le Point, 2011).

Also, François Hollande considers that the privileged relationship with Germany should not affect the relations of France with other member states, arguing that the Europe's fate may not be decided only by France and Germany, even if they have an historical duty to give a vision to the European Union. The Franco-German relationship must not become the sole engine of Europe, and that’s why the President Hollande wants to find a good balance between the two countries, which could engage other states (Kauffmann, 2012).

Regarding the Stability and Growth Pact proposed by François Hollande, which aims to re-launch the European economy through an economic growth, the French President did not rely entirely on the traditional allies like Italy and Spain, but also on the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany, which lobbied for the Pact in the Bundestag.

The Community’s Budget Issue

The establishment of the Community’s budget for 2014-2020 was one of the turning points in the traditional privileged relationship of France with Germany, because the two community leaders have shown conflicting budget priorities. If Germany wanted to limit the EU’s budget to a maximum of 1% of the EU GNP in order to modernize the spending pattern and to hence the investments, directly affecting the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) credits that France as the Community’s largest agricultural power is its main beneficiary, France sustained that the budgetary priority should be given to the agriculture (Mevel, 2012).

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted to favour areas such as: research, new technologies or large power networks which will cross the Central Europe in the detriment of the agricultural aid, while François Hollande claimed that the Common Agricultural Policy is a policy of the entire European Union and not a policy of France, in order to draw attention for his cause the traditional allies such as: Italy, Spain and Poland (Ibidem).

Moreover, the President François Hollande said that "​savings have to be done, but without destabilizing the economy" and in this sense he declined four principles:

- a level of expenses in order to preserve the common policies;

- a cohesion policy not only for the beneficiary countries but for the whole Europe;

- an agricultural policy which stimulates the precious industry and respects the environment;

- a financial framework which must extend the Pact for the economic growth (L’Express, 2013)

If in 1984, at the Fontainebleau Summit, France and Germany have made common cause to counterbalance the UK when Margaret Thatcher requested to reduce the British contribution to the Community’s budget, in 2013, Germany passed on the Britain’s side, together obtaining a European spending restraint.

The Franco-British relationship within the François Hollande’s presidency

Although the relationship between France and Britain was not very strong within the European Community - especially during the Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, when the accession of Great Britain to the European Coal and Steel Community was twice rejected by France, and in the early '80s, when the President Mitterrand opposed to the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the budget cut - after 30 years, history seems to repeat itself.

In November 2012, the President Hollande considered that the main culprit for the failure of the discussions on the EU’s budget was the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who wanted to keep $ 3.6 billion received by Britain in compensation for its poor funding obtained in the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). In this sense, the French President warned him that "Europe cannot be a gathering of nations, in which each state comes to look what will be useful for it and only for it.“ (Francetvinfo, 2013).

Moreover, unlike the diplomatic attitude of the Chancellor Angela Merkel, François Hollande criticized the initiative of the British Prime Minister to hold a referendum in 2017 on the Britain’s leave of the European Union, arguing that "Europe must be taken as it is. We can help it to evolve in the future, but we cannot decrease it on the pretext of proposing to stay where we are (at the present developments).” (Le Monde, 2013).

The referendum issue became more pressing for the French leader, because it represented a way to urge the European Union to accept Britain’s proposals, namely to move the gravity centre of the future negotiations concerning the EU’s development to the British interests.

Moreover, the President Hollande feared that Cameron’s attitude could destabilize the Franco-German relationship, given that the UK is a more dynamic trading partner of Germany as compared to France (Fiallo, 2013).

Another topic of the referendum was released by Britain when France (the main opponent of the British conception of a Europe à la carte) risked being put in a disadvantageous position within the European Union. Some of the French political analysts believe that if France will not be able to keep its commitment to limit the public deficit to 3% of GDP, it will be put in the position to discuss with Germany the possible relaxation of the Community’s regulation. In such situation, in return to France, Germany could require to relieve its reluctance concerning the British proposal, which the German Chancellor Angela Merkel finds interesting (Ibidem).

Another topic of the recurring tensions between France and Britain was the link between the UK and the Eurozone. Great Britain fears that a very deep integration between the countries of the Eurozone will not favour the Community, being in the detriment of the Single Market’s integrity, one of the Union’s major achievements, on which London would like Europe to focus (Ricard; Stroobants, 2013).

Likewise, in October 2012, the British government announced its intention to use the exemption clause (opt-out) for 130 measures included in the Lisbon Treaty, whereof the government wants to review it according to the "national interest".

In this context, the President Hollande considers that "the national interest cannot prevail the European interest" ... and what threatens us is not the distrust existing in the financial market, because the economic crisis has passed, but the people’s distrust (Le Monde, 2013) and moreover, it’s not possible that the Prime Minister of Great Britain "negotiates with Europe” (La Tribune, 2013).

Furthermore, if the Prime Minister David Cameron wants a trend towards a "European Union à la carte", in which it can be a member without accepting all the constraints, and without being in the Eurozone or in the Schengen area (Presse Europe, 2013), the French President Hollande says that "Europe is above all a political will, a commitment within each country accepting a balance of rights and obligations, where rules are respected, where trust creates solidarity, a project within which we cannot endlessly discuss about the acquis and about itself at each stage. " (L’Expansion, 2013).

Regarding the European institutions, the President François Hollande believes that "it is legitimate to work on a new architecture of the Union. I advocate for a differentiated Europe. It will not be a two-speed Europe that quickly becomes uneven and divided, much less a Europe à la carte, but a Europe in which countries decide to go further, engaging in new projects and releasing funding under an enhanced cooperation. For too long, Europe doubts about itself, doubts about its choice, it takes too much time to make major decisions and too much time to reflect on its guidelines and overall architecture.“ (leJDD, 2013).


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Edited by: Lilit Mkrtchyan
Photo credits:
By Jean-Marc Ayrault [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons