France's Socialist President Francois Hollande Sworn In

France's newly-elected President Francois Hollande arrives at the Elysee Palace for the handover ceremony with outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris May 15, 2012.
(Credit: REUTERS/Christophe Ena/Pool)

France's Socialist President Francois Hollande Sworn In

Whether he can forge new direction for France and Europe is next question

France's first socialist leader in almost twenty years, Francois Hollande, has been sworn in as president today. Hollande won the presidency from outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy in a pitched election that focused mainly on the woes of the European economy and was duel between those in France who continued to support Sarkozy's drive towards more austerity and Hollande's message of unity, job growth, and a promise to strengthen the financial future by strengthening the public sector, not undermining it with cuts.

"To overcome the crisis Europe needs projects, solidarity and growth," he said in his inaugural speech. "I will propose to our partners a new pact to combine the necessary reduction in public debt with essential economic stimulus."

Hollande vowed to "unite" France, saying he would bring the country much-needed "calm" and reconciliation and fight against divisions and racism. According to The Guardian, Hollande acknowledged the challenges that awaited him and the difficult conditions: weak growth, high unemployment, a France that is not competitive, and a Europe struggling to find economic growth. He said his priorities would be education and giving back hope to French youth.

Hollande is wasting no time in taking on his new role, as he heads off to meet with his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, today to discuss Europe's ongoing financial crisis.

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In his inaugural speech to some 400 guests, Hollande said he would seek to amend a European pact to add growth-boosting measures to deficit-cutting policies that critics say are dampening the bloc's growth prospects.

In a veiled swipe at outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy, who some faulted for being all-controlling and too impulsive, Hollande said he would run a "dignified", "simple" and "sober" presidency and ensure parliament plays its full role.

"I will set the priorities but I will not decide for everyone, on everything and (be) everywhere," Hollande said.

Sarkozy and his wife, singer and ex-model Carla Bruni, left the Elysee Palace under a bright sky but dark clouds blotted out the sun and rain poured down when the new president left for the traditional inauguration drive in an open-topped car.

Soaked to the skin, Hollande grinned at bystanders as his car crawled up the Champs Elysees avenue to the Arc du Triomphe, where he relit the flame at the memorial of the Unknown Soldier and laid a wreath.

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France 24 reports:

... the real work to begin later in the afternoon, when Hollande was to fly to Berlin from an airbase north of Paris, for tense talks with Merkel, the leader of Europe's biggest economy and France's key ally.

Merkel was a Sarkozy ally and the architect of the European Union's fiscal austerity drive. Hollande opposed the speed and depth of the cutbacks demanded by Berlin, and wants to renegotiate the eurozone fiscal pact.

Germany is committed to budgetary discipline, and Merkel has repeatedly insisted since Hollande's election that the pact, signed by 25 of the 27 EU countries and already ratified in some, is not open to renegotiation.

But observers say there is room for compromise, with Hollande likely to agree to additional stimulus measures without a rewrite of the pact.

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