François Hollande’s long-awaited meeting of the European left will take place in Paris tomorrow (Saturday 12 March), as the EU’s socialist leaders struggle to convert promises into economic results and jobs. EURACTIV France reports.
“This shows that François Hollande is the driving force behind social issues in Europe,” a source in the French Socialist party said.
The invitation of Alexis Tsipras to this meeting of predominantly center-left leaders is an interesting political manoeuvre, at a time when Hollande is consistently giving concessions to the right.
Between the continuous state of emergency, in force since 13 November, the constitutional amendment that will allow the French government to strip its citizens of their nationality and the draft employment bill, the French president’s popularity on the left is under strain, including in his own Socialist Party.
According to an editorial by Sergei Stanishev, the president of the Party of European Socialists, “Populists will not offer solutions. Our socialist and democrat family, on the other hand, offer real solutions to shape the EU for the benefit of the people. Unlike other political families we have a common European project, we have developed a common agenda for growth and we stand by it.”
But the efficiency of this programme can justifiably be questioned. Growth is anaemic in the eurozone, with unemployment persisting at a historic high of 11%, compared to 9% across all 28 member states. And the European Central Bank (ECB) has struggled to inject liquidity into the economy, despite negative interest rates.
The question of a separate eurozone budget will also be on the table at the Paris meeting. Championed by Hollande, this idea would make the most fragile economies more resistant to crises, and above all instil solidarity in the way Europe’s economies interact.
The presence of UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn will also inevitably turn the spotlight to the question of Brexit. The veteran British socialist, who was catapulted to party leadership last September, is well-known for his sceptical views on the European Union. In the past he has supported Britain’s leaving the EU, but has backed the ‘in’ campaign for the June referendum.
Until now, these pre-council meetings have been attended by socialists, democrats and SDP members including Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel. So the invitation of a party often classed as the radical left may come as a surprise.
One year ago, a minister in Manuel Valls' French government had said, "Tsipras is like Mélenchon." But a lot has changed in a year. France wove a special relationship with the Greek leader during his attempts to resolve the Greek crisis last summer.
One episode in particular brought the two parties closer together. The French president managed to re-establish contact with the Greek prime minister in the early hours one weekend, and convince him not to abandon the process. Since then, the relationship has been more peaceful.
Tsipras has also smoothed things over with Gianni Pitella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament.