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Socialist Francois Hollande Takes Office in France

Posted on the 16 May 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande meet

Angela Merkel and François Hollande: United?

The background

The socialist François Hollande, known as “Mr Normal”, has been sworn in as the new President of France. He immediately headed off to Germany; on the way to meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel to talk about the eurozone crisis, his plane was struck by lightning. Merkel said that this was “a good omen,” reported AFP – he made it, after all.  His inauguration, earlier, had been marked by austerity; he drove around in an open-topped car, soaked to the skin by the rain. He’s named as his prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a veteran socialist, reported The Financial Times. It was straight down to business for Hollande. Commentators are saying that whilst Merkel and Hollande have had their differences, they are presenting a united front in face of the European debt crisis. In France, he is expected to launch a range of left-wing policies. A picture is emerging of a pragmatic, sensible man.

“I am not afraid of anything,” said Hollande, when asked if he was afraid of the rain, quoted on The Daily Telegraph.

The meeting

It started “awkwardly”, said The Guardian – Merkel had to shift Hollande back on to the red carpet when he went the wrong way; they also didn’t kiss, as Merkel used to do with Sarkozy, but merely shook hands. The paper suggested that Hollande had the “psychological advantage”, with his new mandate, whereas Merkel looks “increasingly isolated in Europe.” Both, however, are “sober, balanced, pragmatic and unpretentious, and champions of irony.”

The Franco-German alliance

By flying to Germany so quickly, said The Financial Times, Hollande has shown that he values the Franco-German partnership. Though Merkel had openly backed Sarkozy, the pair put aside their differences. Whilst Merkel won’t be reopening the “EU fiscal discipline treaty” any time soon, she may well come to terms with Hollande’s ideas for making pan-European project bonds. Merkel, reported The Telegraph, said after their meeting that both France and Germany want Greece to stay in the euro, and that they were committed to help the country return to growth. Hollande wants to pair German austerity with pro-growth measures. Slightly unfortunately, reported The Guardian, the euphonious “Merkozy” portmanteau has now been replaced with “Merkollande” – or, worse, “Merde.”

What is Hollande promising?

Hollande says that he’s going to stimulate the economy whilst reducing debt; also that he would demand “protection for our continent in an unstable world” in terms of reciprocal trade agreements. His appointment of Ayrault, a key ally, shows that he wants to “keep close control over his new government.” Philippe Aghion, Hollande’s economic advisor, said in The Financial Times that the latter was “fast thinking but slow moving.” His strategy is “clear” – “growth, social inclusiveness and budgetary discipline.” Merkel should be “optimistic” – Hollande will be a “willing partner in her mission to revive Europe.  And he’s certainly not going to wallow in pomp like Sarkozy, said Henry Samuel in The Telegraph. The low-key inauguration ceremony was a world away from the “Kennedy-style get together” that Sarkozy threw in 2007.

 Don’t write him off

The rich had better watch out, said Nadila Ramdani on The Independent. Hollande’s planning to tax the wealthy at 75 per cent, and he’s bent on curbing Paris’ financial dealings, and making loads more civil service jobs. He’s certainly very left-wing. He won’t repeat the mistakes of France’s last Socialist President, François Mitterand, though – he’ll be focusing on the euro crisis and healing rifts caused by Sarkozy within France. He’s “by no means the gray, provincial local government apparatchik his detractors claim.” And he’s commited to equality. He’s “going to have an extremely rough time, but he should not be written off as easily as some would like.”

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