MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In Paris today, the swearing-in ceremony for the new French president Francois Hollande. He vowed to make France a more just place and he called for a European growth pact to balance out the German-led push for austerity. Then, Hollande flew off to Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, only to have his plane struck by lightning. No harm done. The plane turned around and the French president caught a new flight to Berlin, where we find NPR's Eric Westervelt.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: It's a post-war custom for French leaders to reach out to the Germans and vice versa to underscore European solidarity and the importance of the alliance. But Hollande and Merkel have different views on how to extricate Europe from its worst post-war financial crisis. In Berlin tonight, Hollande told reporters all new ideas to foster economic growth should be put up for discussion.
PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through Translator) All this has to be put on the table, anything that contribute to growth. (inaudible) investments for the future, mobilizing funds, euro bonds, et cetera, everything has to be examined. And then, we draw the conclusions
WESTERVELT: In reality, tonight's get-together amounts to crisis talks as much as a get-acquainted meeting. The Greek political and fiscal mess and deep worries about Spain's debt-burdened banks have renewed stark talk about Greece's possible exit from the euro and fears of a Europe-wide financial catastrophe. Meantime, emboldened by a big regional election win and by Hollande's victory, Germany's main opposition, the Social Democrats, today, made demands for what they called a growth and investment pact in exchange for supporting parliamentary passage of a Merkel-designed European fiscal pact that sets firm debt limits.
SPD leader Peer Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, said at stake in the crisis was nothing less than the European project of post-war cooperation.
PEER STEINBRUECK: (Through Translator) In my eyes, the bottom line is whether we continue with the European project, one that has seen 60 years of integration, prosperity and peace, or whether we let it fall apart and into the hands of dangerous nationalists.
WESTERVELT: Despite the tough talk, the German opposition is against new stimulus projects that would boost public debt, which is the same position as Merkel. And the Social Democrats offered no specific growth proposals beyond ones that have been discussed for months, using European Investment Bank credit for infrastructure projects and creating a financial transactions tax.
Mark Hallerberg at Berlin's Hertie School says those projects, however sound, will take years to get going and are likely to prove insufficient.
MARK HALLERBERG: There aren't many shovel-ready projects. We're talking longer-term growth. This is not going to address the crisis. It may over the medium term help out Europe, but this isn't a magic bullet to solve the problem. It is, however, rhetorically, something that politicians can use.
WESTERVELT: So the search continues for viable growth plans, he says, that aren't just gimmicks. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.