Monsieur Hollande: Obama's new friend


Francois Hollande and Barack Obama met at the White House

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The French, President Barack Obama likes to remind us, are America's oldest allies.

France's new socialist President, Francois Hollande, may turn out to be a valuable new friend as well.

He will be welcomed at the White House before the G8 conference gets underway.

There is no doubt this summit will be dominated by the latest appalling and enthralling instalment of the Greek tragedy.

Mr Obama is by no means alone in urgently wanting more action to stop the crisis in its tracks before it spirals even further out of control, wrecks the European economy and sends shock waves across the Atlantic.

Mr Hollande is something of an unknown quantity in Washington, although the White House sent a team to Paris last week to get to know his closest advisers. I get the impression they liked what they heard.

How the two men get on personally will matter a lot. But Mr Obama likes ideas more than chit-chat and they are, at least on the surface, ideological allies.

Most of the key European leaders he's dealt with are from the centre-right. So Mr Hollande, a fellow member of the centre-left may come as a welcome change. I've been joking for a while that President Obama is the last Keynesian standing. Perhaps not any more.

The White House is unambiguous in its support for his agenda.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told me what the administration is paying attention to in Europe.

"We've seen not just President Hollande but many different leaders within Europe acknowledge the importance of pursuing growth, at the same time as they're pursuing the austerity targets, so we think that sets the basis for a good discussion," he said.

He said the increased focus on growth was welcome, but what does he mean?

"Things like a growth pact, as you had Chancellor Merkel make comments about, perhaps some type of stimulus around Greece, so we think that all of these are elements of the package that can help Europeans deal with the crisis they are in and contribute to the global recovery."

I am not suggesting for a moment that it will be Mr Obama and Mr Hollande against the rest, for Mr Hollande is not the only new boy.

This is the first G8 for Italy's Mario Monti too. He is seen as someone who's moving his country in a credible direction, and who may be a source of new ideas.

The most vocal demands for more action have been from British Prime Minister David Cameron. He's been outspoken on the need to bring the crisis to a head, one way or another.

And while defending his government's austerity programme he, too, is talking about growth, more "collective support and collective responsibility" and a new eurozone monetary policy.

President Obama, the White House says, wants to provide leadership, and stress it is imperative there be a comprehensive solution to the crisis.

He'll do it in a fairly cozy, intimate setting. There's only enough room at Camp David, nestled amid the Maryland mountains, for a cabin for every leader, and they'll meet around a dining room table.

The G8 used to be for leaders of the main economies to chew the fat in an informal setting, without agendas or advisers, and he wants it to be more like that again.

In this intimate setting Angela Merkel might find herself under some very polite post-prandial pressure.

The Americans have never understood why Germany has not taken their advice and allowed the European Central Bank to behave more like the Fed.

They've made the point many times in the past and have always been rebuffed. But the dynamics in the room have shifted slightly and they'll make the point again. As Ben Rhodes put it very diplomatically:

"It's a European challenge in the eurozone and it's going to demand a European solution - we've always said that.

"You can look at the lessons of our own crisis where you needed very assertive action by government to send a message to markets that we were going to deal with the crisis, that we were going to recapitalise banks, that we were going to get growth and job creation moving again."

"What we can do is share lessons from our own experience."

Don't expect any dramatic statements after the meeting. I am certainly not holding my breath for anything that could really be called "news".

There might be real movement out in Maryland's hinterlands, but any result may only come to light after another European summit next week.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    101. rf_41 You might want to compare the cost of health care in GB with the U.S. I think you will find people pay far less in GB. In the U.S. if you don't make a lot of money or have health insurance you're out of luck. One reason for not retiring is to keep the health insurance -- of course the pay doesn't hurt either :-) but as they say, you can't take it with you :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    We are all waiting with bated breath for Greece to go belly up. The sooner the better to end all the uncertainty ahhahahahahahaha ahhahahahahahaha hohoho!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    It may take someone 'new' like Hollande to alter European course. And there's not much intrinsically wrong with Keynsianism when compared to monetarism.
    It's less about not spending and more about not producing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Since the global financial meltdown the US has recovered far faster than the UK. The Tory UK government used the global financial meltdown as a smokescreen to introduce savage cuts of services they never supported. In the US the government has continued to invest in jobs - the result has been the US economy doing MUCH better than the UK one which is back in recession again !

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Re-reading how the central banks tried to handle the Depression it is sad to see how leaders then and now attached themselves to single dogmas, rather than balance reform, austerity and growth to patch up not just the financial system but also keep people's spirits up.

    Merkel needs to temper her tunnel view and consider all the people, else she risks them will digging in and nothing will be done

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.


    Spanish banks show Mrs Merkel's gamble is seriously risky. It could all go 'pop' any time

    Greeks now have too little to lose and will not jump, no matter how provoked

    The Irish will vote on 31 May

    Merkel will not give up her punitive policy. Her people may now believe her lies, but the economic argument is lost outside of Germany

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    You are kidding, seriously you believe this or just being inflammatory looking for a reaction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    The United States should have never have entered the Second World War in Europe. Europe would have ended up with one currency and one language - German. In ten years that's exactly what you will have.

    I think we wasted a lot of money and blood for nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    244.Entropic man

    Couldn't agree more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    45. DisgustedTW Whether government spending helps the economy depends on what it is spent on. If it is spent on infrastructure, education and research, it is an investment. If it is spent on tax breaks for the rich, or corporations that don't need it (Oil, Coal, Hedge Funds etc.) it is a waste. At least in the U.S. we are borrowing money at close to 0% interest. Our infrastructure needs rebuildng

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.


    You see thats where you are wrong thats exactly how a country should be ran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    5. powermeerkat If Obama were a socialist, he would have nationalized the banks, not continued the TARP that was started under Bush. Socially and economically beneficial banking is boring, not like exciting like Las Vegas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    @ 247. Kennys_Heroes
    "Your comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain."

    Yup, better keep the mild humor 1st-degree at most or someone on high will just not understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    In reply to AndreaNY, re: investment results.

    Last time I looked, the US presidential hopefuls were running for the presidency of a nation, not the CEO position of a private corporation. Countries are NOT companies, nor should they try to be.

  • Comment number 247.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    The word is 'cosy', not 'cozy' - we're not *quite* the 51st state yet, Mark!

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    242. margaret howard

    C'mon Margaret, give this poster a break will you... have you ever tried talking with someone else's tongue in your cheek? It ain't easy, believe me.

    I'm taking a break here, so that I ca...

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    #156 Powermeerkat

    Capitalists generate wealth, but are unwilling to redistribute any of it.

    Socialists create nothing, and redistribute other people's wealth until its all gone.

    Somewhere, there's a middle ground.

    I find it particularly ironic that the Republican Right are so strongly religious, but so conspicuously lacking in Christian charity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    164. MagicKirin

    Bain Capital had a 78% sucess rate in turnarounds.

    It would be instructive to line up Obama's govt. investment results against Bain's private investment results. Dollar for dollar, real results, not the results published for political consumption.

    Whom would you invest with?

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    238 Milwaukee
    "I hope Mr. Hollande didn't bring his mistress to the White House. We Americans don't care for such French carryings-on."
    I hope you say that tongue in cheek or have you forgotten Clinton-Lewinsky, Kennedy and his intern, FDR and his and his wife's secretary, Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson - a long list that goes right back to the 1st president. Makes the French look quite tame!


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