Hollande enters eurozone fray
Socialist president set to push growth agenda
FRANCOIS Hollande was sworn in as France’s first Socialist president in 17 years in a brief ceremony yesterday before he made a dash to Berlin to challenge German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austerity prescription for the troubled eurozone.
In his inaugural speech to some 400 guests, Hollande said he would seek to amend a European pact to add growthboosting measures to deficit-cutting policies that critics said were dampening the bloc’s growth prospects.
Marking his differences with his outgoing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who some faulted for being all-controlling and too impulsive, Hollande said he would run a “dignified” and “sober” presidency.
“I will set the priorities, but I will not decide for everyone, on everything and [be] everywhere,” Hollande said.
Hollande, whose election comes as the eurozone teeters back into crisis over fears about Greece’s future in the single currency, was scheduled to give his first presidential news conference in Berlin yesterday evening, flanked by the centre-right Merkel.
His comments will be keenly watched by financial markets eager for reassurance that his push to tack pro-growth instruments onto Europe’s budget discipline treaty will not sour the start of his relationship with Merkel.
Jean-pierre Jouyet, a friend of three decades and a seasoned European affairs specialist, said the Berlin meeting was sure to go well, but that this did not mean Hollande would be unable to press his case with Merkel for a more pro-growth strategy.
“It will go well in terms of form, because Francois Hollande is courteous and so is Merkel,” Jouyet, head of France’s financial markets regulator, told RTL radio.
“In terms of substance, neither has lessons to give the other,” Jouyet said.
Any indications on initial economic policy will be scrutinised both outside France and inside, where frustration over rampant unemployment and a shaky economy were key factors behind conservative Sarkozy’s defeat.
Hollande, who said on the night of his election that the weight of events in Europe forced him to keep his celebrations short, said on Monday he knew he would be judged on how he started his term.
Hollande was officially sworn in yesterday morning after Sarkozy greeted him on the steps of the Elysee presidential palace and took him inside to hand over the country’s nuclear codes and other secret dossiers.
Anxious not to lose the “Mr Normal” image that appealed to voters tired of his showman predecessor, Hollande had asked for the inauguration ceremony to be kept as low-key as possible. He invited just three dozen or so personal guests to join some 350 officials at the event and neither his nor his partner’s, Valerie Trierweiler, children attended his official swearing-in ceremony.
Still, the man who until recently chugged to work on a scooter was presented with the official chain of office, a gold collar weighing nearly 1kg engraved with his name and the six previous presidents of the Fifth Republic. He also had a Legion of Honour medal pinned on his lapel. He was later taken on a traditional victory drive down the Champs Elysees Avenue in an open-topped car.
Hollande was set to name civil servant Pierre-rene Lemas as his chief of staff yesterday.
Germanophile Jean-marc Ayrault, who has strong contacts in Berlin, could be named prime minister sometime after that.
Before that, Hollande is scheduled to dine for his first lunch as president with Socialist former prime ministers Pierre Mauroy, Laurent Fabius, Michel Rocard, Edith Cresson and Lionel Jospin.
Hollande will travel to the US tomorrow for G8 and Nato summits after holding his first cabinet meeting. — Reuters