Hollande may get Obama's backing

US president supported growth measures in bid to pull out of recession

17 May 2012

PRESIDENT François Hollande flies to the US today for his first meeting with President Barack Obama.

The eurozone crisis and Afghanistan will lead the agenda and Hollande is expected to find support for his plans to stimulate growth in Europe as Obama spent heavily trying to pull the US out of the recession.

Afghanistan may be more of a problem as Hollande wants French troops out by the end of this year but both Nato and American commanders have said their mission should continue until 2014.

Hollande and Obama will aim to create a quick bond before they head to the G8 world leaders summit at Camp David this weekend, which is expected to focus on the eurozone crisis.

Yesterday saw the first cabinet meeting of Hollande, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and their new ministers - 34 in all, split exactly between men and women.

All have taken 30% pay cuts as Ayrault said they hoped to "give an example" to the country. It contrasts with Nicolas Sarkozy who increased his pay as he took office.

Hollande and Ayrault see their pay fall from €21,300 to €14,910 while ministers' pay is reduced from €14,200 to €9,940.

The ministers have also agreed to a new code of ethics which commits them to transparency in their dealings and "setting an example" by upholding the law - even to obeying speed limits.

New government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said that ministers were told they were not there to "manage the country, but to reform it, to overcome privileges and to improve the lives of the French people".

Vallaud-Belkacem, who calls herself a non-practising Muslim, is a clear signal of the new tone of the government after an election campaign where Islam and immigration were key issues for Sarkozy and also for the Front National's Marine Le Pen.

She was born in Morocco and arrived in France at the age of four. She said in an interview on TF1 news last night she was a "pure product of the [equality] of the republic".

The opposition UMP party criticised the number of ministers in the new government, saying it would "cost a great deal more to the taxpayer". It has three more members than the departing government.

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