Francois Hollande has been sworn in as the new President of France. He is the first Socialist leader of the Republic in 17 years.The veteran politician dubbed “Mr. Normal” by the French press pledged to govern the country with “dignity and simplicity.” In keeping with his low key public image, Hollande saw to a series of symbolic gestures, including an inexpensive inauguration and announcing that his presidential car will be hybrid Citroen. Observers say that the moves build on a contrast with the style of outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande ran on an anti-austerity platform, saying he would set France and the euro zone as a whole on a more growth-oriented and socially just path. He repeated similar themes in his first public address after assuming the presidency.
He called Europe “damaged” and laid out a stark series of economic and social challenges that France faces, including persistent unemployment, deficits and slow growth. He promised to pursue a course that would address deficits and promote stronger immediate growth.
“I will propose a new pact to our partners which links the necessary reduction of public debt with the indispensable stimulation of the economy,” he said. The new president expressed confidence in France’s national character saying that it would help see the way through the present crisis.
His anti-austerity policies places him at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has persistently advocated for sharp budget cuts across the continent. Hollande and Merkel met in Germany mere hours after the president was sworn in. After Hollande’s election victory Merkel said she was eager to work closely with the center left leader but added that she would not budge on Europe’s fiscal stability pact.
Hollande had campaigned against the pact and promised he would renegotiate it as president. Speaking at a joint press conference today, Hollande called for greater “balance” in the French and German relationship and said that European policy makers should consider stimulus strategies that Merkel has opposed. Merkel has indicated that while she will not revisit the treaty itself, she may be willing to make more aggressive moves towards growing euro zone economies. Both leaders said they wanted Greece to remain in the euro, but Hollande again deviated from Merkel saying that “We have to allow the Greeks to find solutions,” in contrast to the German leaders steady demand for Greece to follow European policy guidelines.
The meeting between the two leaders was delayed after President Hollande’s plane was struck by lightning on his first flight to Berlin.