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France's new finance minister to meet Schaeuble next week

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

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 Wolfgang Schaeuble, with a joint press conference planned afterwards.

The visit will come days after Sapin, who was appointed on Wednesday in a government re-shuffle, said he would discuss the "pace" of deficit reduction during talks with EU partners.

The comments were seen as a sign that Paris wants more time to cut spending amid a prolonged economic downturn.

Schaeuble, who with Chancellor Angela Merkel is a strong champion of budgetary rigour in the 18-nation eurozone, said on German TV late 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 percent of national output last year to under 3.0 percent 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.

Meanwhile the EU's Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn and Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann warned against giving France more time, in an interview with a German newspaper.

"We should... emphatically point out to France its commitments concerning this matter," Weidmann was quoted as having told Saturday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, according to an advance excerpt.

"The important thing now is that the EU Commission interprets the agreements strictly and is also therein backed up by the German government," he said.

For his part, Rehn cautioned that if France was granted "more flexibility for no reason", it would "immediately be used as a benchmark by other member states", the newspaper said.

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

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140405/frances-new-finance-minister-meet-schaeuble-next-week