Francois Hollande was sworn in as president of France yesterday with a solemn vow to find a new growth-led strategy to end the debt crisis threatening to unravel the eurozone.
After brief ceremonies and a rain-lashed walkabout, the 57-year-old Socialist was to dash to Berlin to confront German Chancellor Angela Merkel over their very different visions as to how to save the single-currency bloc.
“Power will be exercised at the summit of the state with dignity and simplicity,” Hollande declared in an inaugural address to Socialist leaders, trade unionists, military officers, churchmen and officials.
“Europe needs plans. It needs solidarity. It needs growth,” he said, renewing his vow to turn the page on austerity and invest for the future, and implicitly underlining his differences with Merkel.
“To our partners I will propose a new pact that links a necessary reduction in public debt with indispensable economic stimulus,” he said.
“And I will tell them of our continent’s need in such an unstable world to protect not only its values, but its interests,” he said.
Hollande was also to make the announcement of who will lead his government as prime minister, with Jean-Marc Ayrault, the head of the Socialists’ parliamentary bloc, tipped as favorite.
The new president was 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.
Then Hollande 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.
Hollande then signed the notice of formal handover of power — becoming the seventh president of the Fifth Republic and only the second Socialist — and then headed back in to the palace ballroom.
After the swearing in, Hollande rode up the rainswept Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe in a modest open-topped Citroen DS5 hybrid, a symbolic break with the flashy style of his predecessor.
Soaked to the skin, Hollande laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and shook hands with veterans before greeting the sparse crowd of wellwishers who braved the bad weather and returning to the Elysee Palace.