Analysis: France's new president

How will Obama and Hollande get along at G8, Nato summits?

Reuters/Yuri Gripas

France’s new President François Hollande can expect a qualified welcome from Barack Obama when he arrives at the G8 summit at Camp David on Friday. The US president looks set to back his call for growth in crisis-hit Europe but is not so keen on his plan to pull French troops out of Afghanistan this year.


Apart from the fact that he’s a Socialist, a label that carries very different baggage in the US than in Europe, Americans don’t know very much about Hollande, the French papers’

Washington correspondents informed their readers on Friday.

They are about to discover that he is not married to his companion, Valérie Trierweiler, which might shock the religious right. Broadminded White House officials have made it known that the fact will make no difference to her reception and that she will be invited to all events associated with both the G8 and the Chicago Nato summit that follows on Sunday and Monday.

Hollande was set to meet French citizens living in the US on Friday evening, even if only 39 per cent of them voted for him. All the 2,000 tickets available for the hour-long encounter were snapped up within two days.

Then it’s on to Camp David, where sparks may fly on some issues:

The eurozone crisis: It could be all on to Angela here. The leaders of the world’s big eight see panic spreading from Greece to Spain and Europe as a whole struggling to get out of the economic dumps.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that there must be no let-up in the austerity prescribed in last year’s European fiscal pact, Hollande’s Finance Minister, Pierre Moscovici, has said France won’t sign unless some efforts to boost growth are added. A videoconference on Thursday among the French, German, British and Italian leaders and some top EU officials, agreed that “fiscal consolidation and growth are not mutually exclusive”, Merkel’s office said afterwards. The US, which is anxious about its markets in Europe, “welcomes the evolving discussion about the imperative for jobs and growth”, Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon said Thursday. The US president recently hinted that Europeans might like to emulate his 2009 stimulation package, credited with creating moderate growth.

Afghanistan: The US fears that, if Hollande fulfils his election pledge to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2012, that will start a race for the exit, even though

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The Netherlands’ withdrawal in 2010 and Canada’s in 2011 passed practically unnoticed. The right-wing Washington Post points out with relish that military experts have said that the plan is not feasible, because it does not allow enough time to bring back valuable military equipment. Washington apparently hopes to find a face-saving formula that will keep some French troops there to “train and assist”, just as the US will keep 20,000 or more in the country after its official withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Nato: Concern, but not too much, in Washington over the Socialists’ opposition to previous president Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to take part in the military alliance’s

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integrated command, which General De Gaulle quit in 1966. Hollande was strangely silent on the matter during the election campaign, leaving the Americans a little anxious about his intentions. The appointment of former prime minister Laurent Fabius, considered a “Gaullo-Mitterrandist” (ie. not very Atlanticist), as foreign affairs minister may worry them a bit more. But most observers believe that Hollande is unlikely to pull any rabbits out of the hat on this one.

Iran and Syria: Hollande’s entourage has let it be known that there will be no change in French policy on the Middle East and has manifested no differences with Sarkozy’s line on the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or on Iran’s nuclear programme. The US’s strategy of tightening the sanctions screw on Tehran needs European collaboration. Hollande looks unlikely to break ranks.

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