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‘Mr Normal’ Hollande to move into Elysee

PARIS, May 7 – European and world leaders reached out Sunday to France’s Socialist president-elect Francois Hollande, whose election win was built in part on a pledge to renegotiate Europe’s austerity pact.

The reaction from several European leaders suggested Hollande’s argument that austerity measures must be leavened by measures to encourage growth appeared to be winning support.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said he shared Hollande’s goal for jumpstarting Europe’s economy, while US President Barack Obama telephoned the victor to congratulate him and invite him to the White House this month.

“We clearly have a common objective: relaunching the European economy to generate durable growth,” said Barroso.

“We must now transform these aspirations into concrete actions.”

Belgium’s Socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, the only EU leader to come to France during the campaign to support Hollande, backed his economic plan.

European budget discipline had to go hand-in-hand with an ambitious growth strategy, he said, as he offered his congratulations.

Hollande has called on the eurozone to broaden its focus from austerity to incorporate growth, a message that he repeated in his victory speech, when he declared: “Austerity can no longer be the only option.”

During the campaign, Hollande won few friends in Germany by criticising Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence on austerity as the way out of the crisis. The German leader had backed Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign.

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On Sunday, however, Germany pledged to work with the French president-elect after he dealt a humiliating defeat to Sarkozy, Merkel’s closest European ally.

She phoned Hollande to congratulate him and invite him for early talks in Berlin.

Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who had backed Sarkozy at the beginning of the election campaign, also vowed to work with Hollande to strengthen the Franco-British relationship, said a spokesman.

Cameron’s domestic austerity drive, however, is at odds with the incoming French president’s belief in government-driven growth.

Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose spending cuts have sparked street protests in a country mired in recession and suffering from a 24 percent jobless rate, also offered his congratulations.

Rajoy was due to speak to Hollande by telephone on Monday.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, congratulating Hollande on his win, said he hoped for close cooperation aimed “at an increasingly efficient and growth-oriented union.”

In Washington, President Obama “indicated that he looks forward to working closely with Mr Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Latin American nations also sent messages of congratulations, led by economic powerhouse Brazil.

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“I want to transmit to him my most effusive greetings,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement posted on the official presidential blog.

“France and Brazil are united by ambitious bilateral projects… I’m sure that we will continue this cooperation in the next years.”

Brazil wants to purchase 38 fighter jets in a contract valued at between $4 billion and $7 billion, and French firm Dassault Aviation’s Rafale jet is in the running.

Other left-leaning leaders including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also congratulated Hollande’s “clear victory” over Sarkozy.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, offered his congratulations in a telephone call.

The markets, however, reacted nervously, with the euro falling Monday in Asian markets.

Investors were also worried about a knock-on effect on European austerity measures after the governing parties in Greece were routed in elections there.

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