BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande agreed Tuesday to spend the coming weeks discussing proposals for generating economic growth in Europe, a first step to bridging their differences over how to tackle the eurozone debt crisis.
Hollande, a Socialist who took office Tuesday, has criticized Merkel's austerity-led approach to the continent's financial troubles and called for more policies geared toward boosting economic growth as opposed to just cutting government spending. During his election campaign, he called for the European budget-discipline pact pushed by Merkel to be renegotiated.
Hollande said after his first meeting with Merkel that "everything must be put on the table by everyone" in Europe that could promote growth. Asked if he is still demanding a renegotiation of the existing fiscal compact, he said he would be able to answer the question "at the end of this work."
An informal meeting of European leaders on May 23 will be followed by a summit at the end of June.
"It will be very important that Germany and France present their ideas together at this summit, and we have talked about the preparation," Merkel said.
"I am for budget seriousness," Hollande said. But, he added, "I am for growth" because that is the only way to reduce debt and cut deficits.
Merkel, who has talked increasingly about growth this year but has argued that it needs to be generated by structural reform instead of relying on greater government spending, argued that her differences with Hollande have been overplayed. And asked if she was afraid of Hollande's campaign pledges, she replied: "I am seldom afraid."
Hollande said he wants to work with Germany "for the good of Europe" and that he envisions "a balanced and respectful relationship."
"We are aware of our responsibility, as Germany and France, for a good development in Europe," Merkel said. "Carried by this spirit, I believe we will of course find solutions for the different problems."
Greece faces new election: Greece headed into a month of political uncertainty after power-sharing talks collapsed Tuesday, triggering new elections that could determine whether the country retains its tenuous position in Europe's currency. No date has been set for the elections, but they will have to be held by mid June — the month in which Greece must make more spending cuts to ensure it meets the terms of its international bailout. A caretaker government will be appointed until then.