Paris - Socialist leader Francois Hollande was sworn in as president of
France on Tuesday at a solemn ceremony overshadowed by the catastrophic
debt crisis threatening to unravel the eurozone.
ceremonies in Paris, the 57-year-old career politician was to dash to
Berlin to confront Chancellor Angela Merkel over their very different
visions as to how to save the single currency bloc.
be exercised at the summit of the state with dignity and simplicity,"
Hollande declared in his inaugural address, promising to find a "new
path" to lead Europe out of its current troubles.
also to make the much-anticipated announcement of who will lead his
government as prime minister, with Jean-Marc Ayrault, the head of the
Socialists' parliamentary bloc, tipped as favourite.
welcomed to the Elysee Palace by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who
led him to the presidential office for a private head-to-head and to
hand over the codes to France's nuclear arsenal.
ushered Sarkozy to his car for a final farewell, outgoing first lady
Carla Bruni exchanging kisses with successor Hollande's partner Valerie
Trierweiler, elegant in a dark dress and vertiginous heels.
Off to Berlin
then signed the notice of formal handover of power and headed back in
to the palace ballroom, where a crowd of Socialist and trade union
leaders, churchmen and military officers were gathered.
foreign heads of state were invited to what was a low-key ceremony for a
post of such importance, leader of the world's fifth great power.
the swearing in, Hollande was to ride up the Champs Elysees to the Arc
de Triomphe in an open-topped Citroen DS5 hybrid, waving to the crowd.
the real work was 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.
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.
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
But observers say
there is room for compromise, with Hollande likely to agree to
additional stimulus measures without a rewrite of the pact.
with political paralysis in Greece raising the spectre of the country
being forced from the eurozone, the heads of Europe's two largest
economies will be keen to reassure worried markets they can work
New figures released on Tuesday showed France's economy
still stagnant, with official statistics agency INSEE saying it
recorded no growth in the first quarter of 2012.
The agency also
revised downward the growth figure for the fourth quarter of 2011, to
0.1% from 0.2%, while maintaining that the economy grew by 1.7% overall
Before he heads to Berlin, Hollande's first order of
business will be to nominate a prime minister, who will be tasked with
forming a government before a first cabinet session likely on Thursday.
Ayrault, a 62-year-old longtime Hollande ally, is considered first in line for the job, but other names are circulating.
Now, for America
the cabinet is named, the focus will move to the Socialists' campaign
to win a parliamentary majority in June's legislative elections - a key
test for the party after Hollande's win.
After the talks with
Merkel, Hollande heads to the United States where he is to meet
President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday ahead of
back-to-back G8 then Nato summits.
These meetings are also
expected to be a test for the neophyte leader as he explains his
decision to pull French forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a
year ahead of schedule.