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France's Hollande Denies Rift with Germany's Merkel - Report

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05/05/2013 | 08:48am EDT

French President Francois Hollande has denied he has put cooperation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on hold until after September's general elections in Germany, German weekly Der Spiegel reported Sunday.

"This (impression) is wrong, that is not my position," the weekly quoted Mr. Hollande as saying in a private conversation with Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris Friday.

"There is no personal animosity between Merkel and myself," Der Spiegel reported Mr. Hollande as saying.

Over the past weeks there were increasing signs of a rift between the two European powerhouses on how to resolve the European debt crisis. While Ms. Merkel has been a steadfast supporter of a strict austerity policy, Paris has become a strong advocate of more government-spending to jumpstart a stuttering economy in France and elsewhere in Europe.

The French President is also under increased pressure from within his ruling Socialist Party to defy Merkel's austerity program for Europe. The French press last week splashed a Socialist Party draft paper which described Ms. Merkel as "selfish" and called her an "austerity chancellor".

According to Der Spiegel, Mr. Hollande praised Ms. Merkel as "a very pleasant interlocutor", but asked Germany to give France some time to come up with the necessary structural reforms. According to the magazine, Mr. Hollande pointed out that Germany also got some loosening of the deficit rules when it enacted its Agenda 2010 structural reforms at the start of the last decade.

On Friday, the European Union Commission gave recession-troubled countries like France and Spain some extra time to fulfill the EU's deficit targets. The move drew strong criticism from leading members from within Ms. Merkel's Christian Democratic party on the weekend. "It's the wrong signal," said Michael Stuebgen, who speaks on European affairs for the Christian Democrats in parliament. "I don't see that France is pushing through with any reform," he told weekly Focus magazine.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, meanwhile, defended the loosening of strict austerity rules for France. "The European Union's growth and stability pact allows a certain flexibility for meeting the rules," Mr. Schaeuble told Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag in an interview.

Write to Klaus Brune at klaus.brune@dowjones.com

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