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Socialist Francois Hollande is to be sworn in as France's president Tuesday/AFP


Hollande to take over French presidency

Socialist Francois Hollande is to be sworn in as France's president Tuesday/AFP

PARIS, May 15 – Socialist Francois Hollande was to be sworn in as France’s president 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, 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 the heavy favourite.

Hollande is expected to be sworn in shortly after meeting Sarkozy at the Elysee at around 10:00 am (0800 GMT).

The ceremony itself will be relatively simple, with no other heads of state invited, and Hollande accompanied only by his partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler.

After the swearing in, Hollande will take an open-topped ride in a Citroen DS5 hybrid 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.

At 1400 GMT Hollande will 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.

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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.

New figures released 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 percent overall in 2011.

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.

“I think he will be named later, yes,” Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the head of France’s AMF financial markets watchdog and a close associate of Hollande, said on French radio Tuesday when asked about Ayrault.

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.

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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.

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.


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