BERLIN — The German and French leaders met Thursday to discuss the continuing crisis in the eurozone, even as fresh economic data reinforced fears the region is sliding into recession.
‘’I feel as though I have never left you,’’ France’s president, Francois Hollande, told Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, as they addressed reporters ahead of a meeting where Greece’s fiscal problems were the pressing issue. Antonis Samaras, Greece’s prime minister, will visit Merkel on Friday before meeting Saturday with Hollande in Paris.
Merkel’s office has sought to play down expectations Thursday’s meeting would produce clear-cut direction, and analysts said they did not expect new proposals. Instead, the aim appeared to be to present a united front before the meetings with Samaras.
Hollande and Merkel also said they would discuss how to implement a plan laid out in June for a stronger, Europe-wide banking regulator, part of efforts to resolve the European debt crisis. ‘’We support going farther and faster with banking supervision with the European Council,’’ Hollande said.
Samaras has lobbied for an easing of the terms international lenders imposed on Athens in return for two huge bailouts. Among other things, he is seeking a two-year extension of repayment schedules, pointing to the depression-level economic contraction Greece is experiencing as a result of austerity measures.
Merkel and Hollande gave no indication they were willing to budge on the terms of bailouts put together by the so-called troika: the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Commission.
In an interview with Le Monde, Samaras restated his demand that European leaders be more flexible, saying Greece had ‘‘a need for air, to get our breath back.’’
The performance of Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, has been helping compensate for recession in Spain and Italy. But the German growth engine continues to lose momentum, Markit surveys for August show. Sentiment in France improved slightly from July, but the research firm pointed to a decline in gross domestic product in the three months ending in September.
Germany’s Federal Statistical Office said Germany grew just 0.3 percent in the second quarter of 2012, and there was a worrying decline in investment by businesses.