Hollande’s EU reform agenda still vague

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François Hollande’s election as president of France has been hailed as a decisive shift of the political balance in the European Union, but the policies he will actually push for in Brussels remain unclear, EURACTIV France reports.

The most important change would be the addition of a “growth chapter” to the fiscal compact treaty, which members of the French Socialist Party often call the “austerity treaty”.

During his seven-month campaign, Hollande has maintained ambiguity on what this would mean however. Ideas have included a reinforced role for the European Investment Bank and the creation of “project bonds,” EU-backed debt to fund largescale infrastructure projects.

A memorandum on growth is currently being prepared by leading Socialist personalities, including Elisabeth Guigou (former EU affairs adviser to François Mitterrand) and MEPs Catherine Trautmann and Pervenche Berès. It will be submitted for discussion by EU heads of state and government next June.

This renegotiation strategy, centrepiece of Hollande’s campaign for the “reorientation of Europe”, has not been positively received by Berlin.

“We in Germany are of the opinion, and so am I personally, that the fiscal pact is not negotiable. It has been negotiated and has been signed by 25 countries,” Angela Markel said on Monday (7 May).

However, the two leaders have also made conciliatory gestures. Merkel has backed European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's call for a 'growth pact'.

Hollande has also softened his position and has omitted talk of reforming the European Central Bank depending on his audience, notably during a December visit to Germany and in presenting his EU reform demands to the international press on 25 April. Changes to the bank's mandate, such as lessening the focus on fighting inflation or allowing it to directly finance governments, are anathema to Berlin.

The fiscal treaty had already been ratified by Portugal, Greece and Slovenia while Ireland is to hold a referendum on the text on 31 May.

EU budget negotiations

Hollande’s programme is similarly vague on the size of the EU budget, currently being negotiated for the 2014-2020 period, although it says it should finance “great future-oriented projects”.

On the Common Agricultural Policy, Hollande's farm spokesperson Stéphane Foll said he wanted an “ambitious budget” but that did not mean defending its funding “to the last euro,” as Nicolas Sarkozy had pledged previously.

France has traditionally been less fond of regional policy. However, this redistributive pillar of the EU is likely to find more support under Hollande, as all regional governments in metropolitan France with the exception of Alsace are currently led by Socialists. He has already pledged to give regions a bigger role in the management of EU funds.

Hollande has promised to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear for electricity from around 75% today to 50% by 2025. This would imply massive investments in renewable energy, which might be enabled by the EIB or project bonds.

The election of a socialist in the eurozone's second largest economy is seen by many as a potential game-changer for the European Union.

With François Hollande, France is expected to push harder for growth-enhancing measures alongside fiscal discipline as a way to tackle the eurozone's ongoing debt crisis.

For Germany, which has been the main driver behind the austerity consensus in Europe, Hollande will certainly prove a more difficult partner than his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

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