France's new finance minister Sapin to meet German counterpart

BERLIN (AFP) - France's new Finance Minister Michel Sapin will meet his German counterpart in Berlin on Monday, a German finance ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

European and bilateral issues will be the focus of the talks with Germany's Mr Wolfgang Schaeuble, with a joint press conference planned afterwards.

But the visit will come days after Mr Sapin, who was appointed on Wednesday in a government reshuffle, said he would discuss the "pace" of deficit reduction during talks with EU partners - seen as a sign that Paris wants more time to cut spending amid a prolonged economic downturn.

Mr Schaeuble, who with Chancellor Angela Merkel is a strong champion of budgetary rigour in the 18-nation euro zone, said on German TV late on Thursday that France "remains a strong country" despite its "difficult" political situation.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters on Friday that Germany was confident Paris would keep to its fiscal commitments.

"We have confidence in France meeting its commitments in the Stability and Growth Pact and that France is aware of its responsibility for the functioning of this pact," he said.

France has promised to reduce its public deficit from 4.3 per cent of national output last year to under 3.0 per cent next year in line with EU rules.

But with the economy stagnant and joblessness rising, President Francois Hollande's government is struggling to impose the spending cuts or tax increases needed to rein in the deficit.

Dr Merkel has wished new French Prime Minister Manuel Valls success in a congratulatory message, her spokesman said.

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