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Francois Hollande officially became the president of France in a thundery ceremony at the Arc De Triomphe after his investiture ceremony in Paris on May 15, 2012. The triumph of the Socialists marks the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s first single-term president, since Giscard d’Estaing in 1958.
The 57-year-old, Hollande, is regarded as an experienced political organizer with 30 years active involvement in the Socialist party, despite never holding a national government office before.
Former president Sarkozy welcomed him on the red carpet steps of Elysée palace before leading him inside. They had a meeting for 40 minutes and Sarkozy handed over France’s nuclear launch codes.
In his inaugural speech to 400 attending guests at the Elysée palace, Hollande pledged to run a “simple, dignified, and sober” presidency. He also fully acknowledged the challenges both France and he will face: “a massive debt, weak growth, high unemployment, degraded competitiveness, and a Europe that is struggling to come out of crisis.”
With the economy in depth of crisis he said, “My mandate is to bring France back to justice, open up a new path in Europe, contribute to world peace and preserve the planet.” He promised to temper German-inspired austerity and ensure measures to boost economic growth. “We have to find solutions together so that austerity does not become our only fate, so that growth returns and so that we can find solidarity over the concerns we have over Greece.”
On May 16, Mr. Hollande had the first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss eurozone dominated issues and the political situation in Greece. The president’s first trip was delayed by a minor incident: his plane was hit by lightning and he had to turn back, forcing him to use another plane and arrived about an hour later than scheduled.
Both parties were aware of their responsibility for Europe and the two nations had to cooperate effectively. They did not hide their differences but they said they would try to overcome the problem. While the conservative Merkel advocated austerity by reducing debt and government spending, the socialist French leader said he would submit his proposals to stimulate economic growth in Europe in the upcoming European summit.
“I am serious about the budget, but also for growth,” said Hollande. He believes economic growth is a more effective way to reduce debt and deficit reduction.
The two leaders also expressed their desire to keep Greece in the EU. “I believe we agree that Greece belongs in the EU and in the eurozone, and we want to promote this,” Merkel said. Both were willing to consider some measures to support the country in the tense political situation and in upcoming new elections.
Athens must hold new parliamentary elections in June amidst unstable political conditions as the result of heightened fears surrounding Greece’s possible removal from the EU. “I hope we can say to the Greeks that Europe is ready to add measures to help growth and support economic activity so that Greece can return to growth,” added Hollande.
After the meeting, Merkel and Hollande were determined to show their harmony on Greece’s maintenance in Europe but still acknowledged some differences on economic growth.
In the early evening, president Hollande was greeted with great military honor. Then he and Merkel had an interview where they exchanged handshakes in front of a crowd of journalists and photographers. Before he was elected, Merkel refused to meet with the socialist candidate and strongly supported his rival, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.
At the moment, the German leader recognizes the need of “working together” for Europe and maintaining the longstanding stable relationship between France and Germany.
Image Courtesy of Francois Hollande