PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande will set out his vision of the European Union’s future in a keynote address to the European Parliament next week, his office said on Monday.
The “solemn” speech, followed by a debate with the leaders of the political groups in the Strasbourg-based EU legislature, gives the Socialist leader a chance to respond to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a reformed EU that returns more power to member states.
Since his election last May, Hollande has pressed for the EU to do more to stimulate growth and ease the pace of austerity to revive Europe’s stagnant economies.
But he has side-stepped German calls for closer political union with more central control over the budgets of euro zone countries, calling instead for more “solidarity” to precede each further step in European integration.
During his election campaign, he embraced calls for common euro zone bonds to eliminate wide differences in borrowing costs among countries, or to pay off their excess debt stock over a period.
Hollande’s will address the parliament two days before a key February 7-8 summit on the 27-nation bloc’s long-term budget for the next seven years.
EU leaders failed at their first attempt last November to agree on the 2014-20 budget, with Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Germany, demanding deeper cuts in EU spending to match national austerity efforts.
Hollande is keen to avoid agricultural subsidies, of which France is the main beneficiary, or regional aid for poorer member states, bearing the brunt of any further savings measures.
Government insiders say the president has been reluctant to make a “big speech” on closer European integration for fear of dividing his left-wing parliamentary majority, which includes a number of Eurosceptics.
A proposed European constitution was killed by a French referendum rejection in 2005 in which Hollande’s Socialist party split and many left-wing voters registered a protest against what they saw as a too liberal, deregulated, enlarged bloc.
France responded to Cameron’s speech, in which he promised a referendum by the end of 2017 on Britain’s continued membership of the EU after an attempt to renegotiate the terms, by saying countries could not pick and choose EU policies a-la-carte.
By contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe must find a compromise with Britain.
Hollande and Merkel agreed last week to unveil joint proposals on deeper integration of the euro zone in May.
Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Ron Askew