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France - Germany

Germany welcomes Hollande's turn to austerity

President François Hollande during his press conference on Tuesday
President François Hollande during his press conference on Tuesday Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-wing party, the CDU, has welcomed French President François Hollande's announcement of budget cuts and help to business at a much-publicised press conference on Tuesday. The French right has given the package a mixed reception.

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"What the French president presented yesterday is, firstly, courageous," Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters. "That seems to me to be the right way, not only for France, but it can also be a contribution that brings Europe as a whole a bit stronger" out of the region's financial crisis.

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In a speech that led journalists to ask if he still considered himself a social democrat - the answer was "yes" - Hollande announced plans to cut public spending by 50 billion euros in the 2015-17 period and reduce corporate payroll charges by 30 billion euros.

"This is a clear change of paradigm," enthused the head of the CDU group in the Bundestag, Andreras Schockenhoff, who also chairs the parliamentary Franco-German association.

Hollande opposed austerity - "a dirty word in France" ' during his election campaign, Schockenhoff said, but now admits that he "underestimated the weakness of French economic growth" and has decided to encourage "competitiveness and productivity".

The CDU leads a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party.

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German newspapers, such as the centrist Suddeutscher Zeitung and the business paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, declared that Hollande a late convert to the "third way" of former British prime minister Tony Blair and Germany's former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

While the politicians refrained from comment on reports that Hollande is having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, the tabloid Bild remarked that the film star would make "the most erotic First Lady since Marie Antoinette".

While French business leaders welcomed Hollande's announcement as a step in the right direction, trade unions and the hard left called it a shift to the right.

The mainstream right-wing UMP was divided in its response.

UMP leader Jean-François Copé said it was "not enough to return business to competitiveness", while former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin called it a "welcome change of line".

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