Hollande to be sworn in, dash to Berlin

2012-05-15 09:45
Paris - Socialist Francois Hollande was to be sworn in as France's president on Tuesday before naming a prime minister and dashing to Germany to battle with Berlin over how to tackle Europe's debt crisis.

Nine days after he defeated right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in a fierce campaign, Hollande, aged 57, was to be inaugurated at the Elysee Palace and only hours later head to Germany for his first foreign visit as president.

He was also set 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 frontrunner.

Hollande is expected to be sworn in shortly after meeting Sarkozy at the Elysee.

The ceremony itself will be relatively simple - with no other heads of state invited - and Hollande will then take an open-topped ride in a Citroen up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, waving to the crowd.

In separate ceremonies, he will then pay tribute to 19th-century educational reformer Jules Ferry - father of France's free, secular education system - and to Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist.

Economic growth

Hollande will then fly to Berlin, where he faces an uncertain reception from Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Sarkozy ally and the main backer of the European Union's fiscal austerity drive.

Hollande has vowed to refocus European economic policy on growth by re-opening talks on a fiscal pact agreed in March that aims to control European debt by enshrining greater budget discipline.

The deal was Merkel's brainchild and she 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.

And 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 together.

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.

The Socialists have been careful to let nothing slip, but Ayrault, a 62-year-old longtime Hollande ally, is considered first in line for the job.

Obama meeting

Other contenders include Socialist Party leader and former labour minister Martine Aubry, Hollande's communications director during the campaign, Manuel Valls, and his campaign and transition chief Pierre Moscovici.

Once 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.

New official estimates of how the French economy performed in the first quarter are also due on Tuesday.

Hollande has ordered an audit of government finances, but EU forecasts suggest he will struggle to meet his goal of cutting the deficit to 3% of gross domestic product by 2013 and balancing the books by 2017.

After 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.

- SAPA
Read more on:    francois hollande  |  angela merkel  |  nicolas sarkozy  |  france
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