France - Germany

French ministers Sapin, Montebourg visit Berlin amid budget deficit debate

Pierre Moscovici (L) and Arnaud Montebourg (R)
Pierre Moscovici (L) and Arnaud Montebourg (R) Reuters/Charles Platiau

France's new double-header economy team - Finance Minister Muchel Sapin and Economy and Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg- visit Berlin on Monday as Paris bids for more time to reach budget deficit targets set by the European Commission.

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A trip to Berlin has become obligatory for French economy chiefs - previous Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici made the pilgrimage after the Socialist government was formed in 2012 - but this time the Germans get two ministers for the price of one, thanks to new Prime Minister Manuel Valls's reorganisation of portfolios.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

His reshuffled cabinet has Sapin and Montebourg sharing responsibility for the economy, in a double-headed arrangement based on the German model.

German officials have reacted coolly to Sapin's announcement that he wants to discuss the "rhythm" of the reduction of France's budget deficit, which is supposed to be down to three per cent next year but at present stands at 4.3 per cent, higher than the target agreed with Brussels.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson on Friday reminded France of its budget "commitments" and "responsibility" for the implementation of the EU's stability pact.

Sapin, who was to meet his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that he would not be pushing for a timetable change in Berlin, his advisors saying that the question has to be settled in Brussels.

Montebourg, who has ruffled German feathers by comparing Merkel to 19th-century Chancellor Otto Van Bismarck and calling for a change in Europe's austerity policies, was to meet academics and the Social Demcrat leader Sigmar Gabriel.

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