Bob Edme, Associated Press
BERLIN — European leaders welcomed the victory of Francois Hollande in the French presidential election Sunday, pledging to work together on the debt crisis, EU policies and creating sustainable growth.
Germany pledged that it would keep up its cooperation with France in driving European Union policies. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed both countries would still work together to help the EU respond to the debt crisis, which he called "a joint objective."
Chancellor Angela Merkel — a conservative leader who worked closely with outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy — also called Hollande to congratulate and invite him to visit the neighboring country as soon as possible, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
One of Hollande's top campaign aides has hinted that he would make his first trip abroad to Germany after his inauguration ceremony, just before heading to a series of international summits in the U.S. later this month.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Hollande, saying "I know that I can count on the convictions and the personal commitment of Francois Hollande to advance European integration."
Britain's conservative prime minister, David Cameron, called the French Socialist Sunday to congratulate him on his victory, pledging to "working very closely together in the future," his office said.
Italian Premier Mario Monti also called Hollande to congratulate him, according to the ANSA news agency.
Hollande has pledged to seek a renegotiating of Europe's treaty on fiscal stability to seek policies promoting growth instead of austerity, a proposal that has been rejected by Germany's center-right government.
Spain's opposition Socialist leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba lauded Hollande's victory.
"It's a great victory for European leftists and a great result for Europe," Rubalcaba said. Spain "will have an ally in France to achieve a change in European economic policy."
Outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy's defeat thus comes as bad news for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Westerwelle made a point in speaking French on the outset of his statement at the French embassy in Berlin, congratulating "France's new president" in an election that he called a "historic event."
"Overcoming the debt crisis is a joint objective, a German-French objective. We have agreed on a fiscal treaty for less debt and we will now jointly draft a growth pact that will create more growth alongside greater competitiveness," he said.
Merkel's government has categorically ruled out renegotiating the fiscal treaty agreed to by 25 EU nations, but has softened its rhetoric recently to embrace a string of separately agreed-upon European measures promoting growth.
Germany, however, thinks of them more as structural reforms and a repackaging of existing EU funds instead of outright injecting fresh money into the bloc's ailing southern economies — something Hollande has suggested.
Westerwelle stressed that a growth pact does not have to mean more spending, but can also be achieved through enhanced structural reforms "and spending better the money that we have."
"We have no doubt that we will fulfill our joint task for Europe to be a stabilizing factor, a motor for the European development also with the future French government," Westerwelle said.
The EU's Barroso said Hollande shares the joint goal "to relaunch Europe's economy to create sustainable growth" through more investment and making better use of Europe's existing funds while "maintaining the goal of budgetary consolidation and debt reduction."
Germany's Merkel, however, had a fellow conservative and leader in Sarkozy with whom she had learned to work well in drafting European policies, and who supported her push for austerity measures to bring down debt levels across the bloc. Their close cooperation in fighting the debt crisis even earned them the nickname "Merkozy."
Merkel had publicly backed Sarkozy's re-election bid, and she made a point in not receiving Hollande at Berlin's chancellery. Hollande, in turn, has made it a point during his campaign to stress that Germany should not be allowed to dominate European politics.
France and Germany combined represent almost 50 percent of the eurozone's gross domestic product.
"Europe's destiny certainly also depends on how close the German-French friendship is," Westerwelle said. "We Germans seek a very, very close relationship and we will also work closely with the new president."
Juergen Baetz can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jbaetz
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