New French leader Hollande to meet Merkel in Berlin May 15

New French leader Hollande to meet Merkel in Berlin May 15

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
New French leader Hollande to meet Merkel in Berlin May 15

Newly elected French President Francois Hollande. REUTERS Photo

France's new leader Francois Hollande will fly to Berlin within hours of his swearing-in ceremony on May 15 for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Several French official sources confirmed Tuesday's planned talks, which were to include a press conference and a working dinner and were expected to focus on the eurozone debt crisis.

Hollande is to formally become president of France on Tuesday, replacing Merkel's defeated French ally Nicolas Sarkozy, and had previously promised that his first visit would be to Berlin.

France and Germany -- Europe's biggest economies -- have traditionally been seen as close allies and the motor of European unification.

But ties have come under strain during the debt crisis, with Sarkozy at first pushing for Germany to allow greater burden-sharing within the eurozone, before backing down and tacitly accepting Merkel's leadership.

Hollande campaigned on a pledge to renegotiate the eurozone's fiscal pact, which binds member states to austerity measures, and which Merkel argues is essential to underpin the continent's eventual recovery.

Both the German and French leaders have made conciliatory noises since Hollande's election on Sunday, but the meeting is expected to be tense, with Berlin already insisting the pact can not be re-opened.

But observers expect that some kind of compromise can be found, perhaps through a parallel treaty or annex to the pact that would include measures to favour growth alongside the previous deficit-cutting.

Even here, however, divisions would remain, with Hollande favouring joint EU investment in major projects, and Merkel calling for structural adjustments to -- in particular -- labour markets and pensions.