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Francois Hollande vs. Angela Merkel: A looming war over austerity?
France's president-elect rides into power on a wave of opposition to Europe's harsh austerity agenda. He's about to crash into Germany's no-nonsense chancellor
 
French President-elect Francois Hollande campaigned on a promise of rolling back Europe's harsh austerity measures, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel is unlikely to let him do so.
French President-elect Francois Hollande campaigned on a promise of rolling back Europe's harsh austerity measures, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel is unlikely to let him do so.
REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Fabrizio Bensch

Francois Hollande will not be inaugurated as France's president until May 15, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel is already pouring cold water on the signature promise of his campaign. Proclaiming that "Germany doesn't decide for all of Europe," Hollande had vowed to renegotiate a German-backed fiscal pact designed to shrink the budget deficits of European Union members by employing harsh austerity measures — spending cuts and tax hikes — that are now taking a heavy toll on voters and slowing economic growth. Merkel says she "will welcome Francois Hollande with open arms," but resolutely put her foot down when it came to the pact, saying it was not up for negotiation. It's inconceivable that the continent can survive its financial crisis without Franco-German cooperation. After all, the two economies are the continent's biggest. Can Hollande and Merkel work together?

France and Germany are veering apart: Hollande won the French presidency by "positioning himself explicitly in opposition to German leadership, and channeling the rising French frustration with German policies," says Max Fisher at The Atlantic. Germany's economy has fared better than France's during the crisis, and Hollande's election proves that the two countries, at least policywise, are heading in opposite directions. The "old hand-holding days could return" if the EU economy miraculously recovers, "but that doesn't look likely to happen."
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Merkel and Hollande will overcome their differences: The two leaders "will have little difficulty forming a common agenda," says Britain's The Guardian in an editorial. For all her tough talk, Merkel has shown a willingness to perform "handbrake" U-turns if necessary, and Hollande is a pragmatist at heart. While there are "deep ideological differences on debt," the two countries are facing the possibility of a "European-wide depression," which "will push the German and French leaders into each other's arms."
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The Greek crisis will force Hollande to back down: France's president-elect has claimed that "he would lead the battle in Europe against austerity," but Greece has already called his bluff, says Gideon Rachman at Business Day. Greeks have voted in anti-austerity parties, but the country's fiscal crisis is so acute that it will likely go bankrupt without cutbacks. "Faced with a choice between supporting Greece and supporting Germany, the French are almost certain to go with supporting the Germans." And when that happens, Hollande will reveal that his "vague and uplifting rhetoric about saving Europe from austerity is irrelevant."
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