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May 16, 2012

Hollande trip to Germany delayed


French President Francois Hollande delayed his his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, due to a lightning strike. (UPI/David Silpa)

PARIS (UPI) -- Newly installed French President Francois Hollande Tuesday was forced to delay his trip to Germany briefly because of a lightning strike.

Just hours after being sworn in, the Socialist Hollande headed for Berlin where he and Chancellor Angela Merkel were to discuss the European debt crisis and other issues.

France 24 reported Hollande was forced to turn back to Paris after his plane was struck by lightning. Hollande swapped planes and renewed his journey.

He and Merkel were scheduled to have a "working dinner."

"We don't think the same on everything," Hollande told French television Monday ahead of his Tuesday swearing-in.

"We'll tell each other that so that together we can reach good compromises," he said.

The two leaders, with different political philosophies, were widely expected to talk about the European sovereign-debt crisis that has made it difficult or impossible for some eurozone countries to refinance their debt without outside assistance.

Hollande campaigned on a vow to renegotiate a German-inspired EU treaty that focuses on austerity and debt limits among eurozone countries, promising to add provisions promoting economic growth. Germany could not "decide for all of Europe," he said.

He also called on the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank, the EU's long-term lending institution, to play more active roles in stimulating demand.

Merkel, a conservative Social Democrat, has said the treaty, already ratified by numerous European countries, can't be touched, and it is wrong to use government money to boost the economy.

But on Monday she told a news conference she saw "no conflict between solid budgetary policy and growth."

Hollande -- in response to a growing democratic revolt in Europe and a deepening recession in Greece, Spain and Portugal -- is likely to urge Merkel to lower interest rates for those countries, or give them and more time to pay off debt, or extend beyond 2013 when they must reduce their deficits to 3 percent of gross domestic product, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

He may even push for a restructuring of the rest of Greek debt, the newspaper said.

Diplomats are already drafting a "political statement on growth" that can be tacked on to the EU treaty that is expected to include measures that will readjust fund targets, the Times said.

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