Days after recognizing the newly formed Syrian opposition council as the “sole representative” of the Syrian people, President François Hollande of France met with its leaders in Paris on Saturday and agreed to install a new Syrian ambassador in France.
The French move comes even before the new council, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has established a provisional government, which is expected to happen soon.
After the meeting with the council’s leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, and his deputies, Mr. Hollande said that his government would raise the issue of lifting a European Union arms embargo against all Syrian forces at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels.
The most significant difference between Obama and Hollande is on Afghanistan. Obama plans to have all U.S. combat troops out by 2014; Hollande made a pledge during the recent election to get his troops out this year. He reiterated that promise to the French people Friday.
“I reminded President Obama that I made a promise to the French people to the effect that our combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012,” Hollande said. “That being said, we will continue to support Afghanistan in a different way.”
But if Hollande’s campaign pledge presents a problem for NATO unity on Afghanistan, his emphasis on growth over austerity should please Obama, who’s been pushing that approach for three years.
“I discussed the main topics with President Obama, including the economy and the fact that growth must be a priority, at the same time as we put in place some fiscal compacts to improve our finances,” the French president said.
Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday to become France’s next president, heralding a change in how Europe tackles its debt crisis and how France flexes its military and diplomatic muscle around the world.
The issue is that in Greece the outcome raises the level of uncertainty a lot, because it’s not clear who can form the government or in fact how long they will last, and what their attitude to the current agreements that the Greek government had reached would be… The French outcome was as expected. The markets have already shifted to a view that austerity on its own wasn’t the right policy mix and that other things needed to be considered.
France handed the presidency Sunday to leftist Francois Hollande, a champion of government stimulus programs who says the state should protect the downtrodden — a victory that could deal a death blow to the drive for austerity that has been the hallmark of Europe in recent years.
Mild and affable, the president-elect inherits a country deep in debt and divided over how to integrate immigrants while preserving its national identity. Markets will closely watch his initial moves as president.
He narrowly defeated the hard-driving, attention-getting Nicolas Sarkozy, an America-friendly leader who led the country through its worst economic troubles since World War II but whose policies and personality proved too bitter for many voters to swallow.
“Austerity can no longer be inevitable!” Hollande declared in his victory speech after a surprising campaign that saw him transform from an unremarkable figure to an increasingly statesmanlike one. He will take office no later than May 16.
Speaking to exuberant crowds, Hollande portrayed himself as a vehicle for change across Europe.
“In all the capitals … there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us, and want to finish with austerity,” he told supporters early Monday at Paris’ Place de la Bastille. “You are a movement lifting up everywhere in Europe, and perhaps the world.”
Germany said on Saturday it was prepared to promote growth in the eurozone, a wish dear to Francois Hollande, the front-running candidate in this weekend’s French presidential election.
“I am confident our two countries will initiate good solutions for Europe and our common currency,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Sunday newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
After the French election “we will quickly get to work on adding a growth pact to the budget treaty to promote competitivity”, Westerwelle said.
Hollande, who has campaigned against austerity calls championed by Germany, has said he intends to renegotiate a budget treaty approved by 25 of the European Union’s 27 member states in 2011, to put a greater emphasis on growth.
But Hollande spokesman Pierre Moscovici told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Saturday edition that no matter what the French Socialists did not want to provoke a crisis and that the Franco-German friendship remained essential.
“We know that Angela Merkel would prefer to see (incumbent) Nicolas Sarkozy win,” said Moscovici, who is a former European affairs minister.
But if Hollande wins “we want to show that nothing will shake the Franco-German friendship”, he said.