François Hollande passes first test with credit, but tougher ones to follow

The French President was the ideal protagonist for the relaxed talking shop of the G8 summit, says John Lichfield in Paris


François Hollande could be forgiven for thinking: "International diplomacy? Piece of cake. You say what you've been saying for months and everyone agrees with you."

There are much tougher tests to come but the G8 summit at Camp David was a quiet success for the inexperienced new French President.

The New York Times spoke of a "new alliance" between President Barack Obama and Mr Hollande. The Toronto Globe and Mail said that the American and French Presidents had been the "rhetorical winners on the weekend".

President Hollande said afterwards that his promise to the French people had been kept. He had pledged during the election campaign to put "growth at the heart" of the international debate and "it is clear that growth was the principal subject of this G8."

You could argue that Mr Hollande was pushing at an open door. Apart from in Berlin, it is now the consensus from Wall Street to Tokyo that austerity and deficit-cutting alone are a short-cut to calamity. Some form of stimulus is essential.

When Mr Hollande made that argument last autumn he was dismissed by some as a Keynesian dinosaur. He has either been lucky, or very smart, in sniffing the change in direction of the economic wind.

Either way, his first appearance on the international diplomatic stage could scarcely have gone more smoothly. Mr Hollande's previous biggest economic negotiation was setting the local priorities for the département of Corrèze in south-west France. François Hollande is thoughtful, chatty, funny and a good listener. He is the perfect protagonist for "world" summits, which are relaxed occasions which take no operational decisions.

Both the G8 communiqué, and Mr Hollande's plans for growth stimulation, are vague. The Greek or Spanish crises could at any moment bring a tidal-wave of panic crashing down on the exercise in confidence-building in the Maryland hills. The EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday will be a far stiffer test of Mr Hollande's statesmanship and economic ideas. EU summits are fire fights, not fireside chats. Chancellor Angela Merkel, isolated in America, will be on firmer ground in Brussels.

After the G8 meeting, Mr Hollande said he would be putting specific ideas on how to kick-start growth to Wednesday's summit. He will be making the case for "eurobonds" – something Ms Merkel has ruled out in advance. It remains unclear, however, what Mr Hollande means by eurobonds.

In his week in power, President Hollande has proved himself already to be a master of gesture and message politics.

Wednesday will be the first true test of his backbone and substance.

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