News that French President François Hollande was once again reshuffling his troubled government took Angela Merkel by surprise while she was in Spain.
The news came as Germany’s chancellor was visiting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at his home in Galicia in northwest Spain.
Together, the leaders walked along the Way of St. James, an 800-kilometer (500-mile) footpath to the reported site of the remains of James, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, in Santiago de Compostela. Strolling along the popular pilgrimage path was undoubtedly meant to symbolize the difficult path out of Europe’s economic crisis.
Spain is certainly making progress in this regard, which caused Mrs. Merkel to praise and acknowledge Mr. Rajoy’s efforts. When Mrs. Merkel was asked in Santiago de Compostela about the events in France, she had to muster all of her diplomatic dexterity. Mr. Hollande had started to take courageous steps, she said. “I wish the French president every success with his reform agenda,” she added.
The chancellor emphasized her expectations for the future and kept silent about her disappointment that France under Mr. Hollande has attracted more attention for its governmental chaos than for its desperately needed economic reforms.
Government sources in Berlin told Handelsblatt that the developments in France have caused “concern” in the German capital.
“France is our most important partner, but it is also our biggest problem child,” said Norbert Barthle, a budgetary spokesman for the parliamentary caucus of Mrs. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). He said France must finally address its economic problems and these can only be solved from within.
Until now, Paris has seemed to look for solutions outside of its own borders. The country has repeatedly demanded more time to meet the E.U. deficit limits. Parts of the Socialist government have questioned the legitimacy of the budget constraints. And the call for a more active role for the European Central Bank (ECB), which would presumably more reflect French influence, has been repeated.