France’s newly elected president, François Hollande, took over the reins of power from Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday in a massive shift of power to the Socialist party. Sarkozy has consistently pushed for austerity measures in France, siding with Germany’s Angela Merkel in many recent fiscal discussions. But Hollande is expected to make some sharp shifts now that he has been inaugurated.
Hollande began his day with an inauguration ceremony in Paris, which did not include the presence of his or his partner’s children. Unlike Sarkozy, often cited as a flashy, well-dressed icon, Hollande had an understated affair. The two leaders shook hands with solemn faces this morning before entering into the Elysee Palace. They had a 40 minute meeting prior to Hollande’s official inauguration as president, according to the Telegraph.
During Hollande’s speech at Tuesday’s inaugural celebrations, he stated that he hoped to compromise on the austerity plans for the Eurozone led by Germany. He had been scheduled to have a ‘working dinner’ with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of Tuesday. As the president made his way to this iconic repast in Berlin, his first plane was struck by lightning and forced to turn back to Paris. No one was injured and he was able to take a second plane to Berlin later on Tuesday, according to BBC News. Merkel’s team has remained certain that the the EU fiscal pact cannot be renegotiated, an aim that Hollande brought to the table at the meeting.
In an interview with Slate Magazine, Hollande lamented that the Franco-German partnership has recently excluded the voices of less powerful European Union members. He hopes that a partnership with Merkel will begin an era of balance across the Eurozone. In his own words to Slate Magazine:
That balance has changed over the past few years. The Franco-German relationship has been exclusive. European institutions have been neglected and some countries, notably the more fragile ones, have had the unpleasant feeling of facing an executive board.
Hollande is probably referring to struggling countries, such as Spain and Greece, which are facing serious debt issues. Many commentators envisioned former president Sarkozy and Merkel as the perfect conservative powerhouse duo. And now there is speculation that Hollande will instigate some shifts in policy from the staunch Merkel, creating new dynamics in the European context.
Reuters has pointed out that Merkel’s stiff stance on targeted budget deficits for Greece and Spain are unrealistic and that Hollande’s aims for easing austerity measures may prove successful over the next weeks as the two leaders begin working together. His title as “Mr. Normal,” a name that was deemed to him in contrast to the flashy Sarkozy, often called the “bling-bling” president, is already getting challenged in light of his broad ambitions.
Hollande also plans to take a strong stance on the global scale and is set to meet with President Obama at the end of the week at the G8 Summit. Hollande plans to stand firm about his ideas regarding Afghanistan and Iranian nuclear programs when he does meet with President Obama, stating to Slate, “I intend to assert France’s independence without making Barack Obama’s task any more difficult.” Still, Hollande has already had to face that he cannot logistically follow through on his campaign promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year but must issue a lengthier time table. This foreign policy issue will be central to the G8 meeting in the coming days.
Hollande’s inauguration has brought about a swift change in policy and energy for France. Before Tuesday’s inauguration and meetings, he had taken a strong stance on feminist issues, including the redrafting of France’s sexual harrassment law. Currently, there is no active sexual harassment law on the books after legislators repealed the last law a couple of weeks ago. Proponents of the plan argued that a stronger draft needed to be written and Hollande promised a swift redrafting during his campaign. It remains to be seen what the new president will accomplish during his first months in office and how world leaders will respond to his approach.
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