Last Updated: Mon May 07, 2012 19:32 pm (KSA) 16:32 pm (GMT)

Hollande to be sworn in May 15; world leaders reach out to France’s new leader

France’s newly-elected President Francois Hollande (C) celebrates on stage with his companion Valerie Trierweiler and Socialist party members during a victory rally in Paris. (Reuters)
France’s newly-elected President Francois Hollande (C) celebrates on stage with his companion Valerie Trierweiler and Socialist party members during a victory rally in Paris. (Reuters)

Socialist Francois Hollande will be sworn in as France’s new president on May 15, an official at outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said on Monday.

Hollande, who won Sunday’s presidential election with 51.6 percent of the vote, will accompany Sarkozy at an annual ceremony on Tuesday, a national holiday, to commemorate the end of World War Two, the official at Sarkozy’s office said.

Hollande was elected France's first Socialist president in nearly two decades, dealing a humiliating defeat to incumbent Sarkozy.

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 European and international press described the victory as a turning point for Europe, but warned of major challenges ahead.

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 U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned the victor to congratulate him and invite him to the White House this month, AFP reported.

“We clearly have a common objective: re-launching 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.

Reaction of world leaders

Hollande has called on the euro zone 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 criticizing 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.

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.

“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.

Israel’s prime minister and president on Monday both congratulated Francois Hollande on winning the French presidential election, and expressed the hope that good ties between the countries would continue.

“I would like to congratulate Francois Hollande on his election as president of France," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of a cabinet meeting.

“The relations between Israel and France were always friendly, and will remain such. I look forward to a meeting with him to continue this important relationship -- important bilaterally and internationally."

Turning point for Europe

The European and international press described the victory of Hollande as a turning point for Europe, but warned of major challenges ahead.

“Au revoir President Bling Bling!” headlined Britain’s conservative tabloid Daily Mail, while German papers wondered what the defeat of Sarkozy would mean to Germany’s ties with France.

Hollande’s victory was described as “a turning point, especially for Angela Merkel,” Financial Times Deutschland said.

Left-leaning Berlin paper Tagesspiegel also viewed Hollande’s victory as a blow for Merkel.

It saw France as “symbolically leaving northern Europe in favor of southern Europe -- in terms of drifting away from budgetary discipline” and concluded: “This means that Germany has fewer, too few, allies.”

However, the regional daily Stuttgarter Zeitung doubted that France alone would be strong enough to counter Merkel’s insistence that austerity remains the key tonic for the euro zone crisis.

Britain's Independent said Hollande’s victory, and the end of Sarkozy, heralded “a change in how Europe tackles its debt crisis and how France operates around the world.”

London’s Financial Times said: “Sarkozy becomes latest victim of anti-incumbent backlash,” with all eyes now on reaction on the world markets.

In Austria, the Kurier newspaper ran the headline “Hollande topples Sarkozy from the throne,” but commented in another article “Paris: lots of civic duty, but little fervor” for the new president who faces big challenges.

The largest selling nationwide Austrian daily Kronen Zeitung added: “Hollande seals the end of Sarkozy” while Vienna’s Die Presse said that “A mammoth task awaits the new guy.”

Spain’s center-left daily El Pais declared: “The European left was reborn this May 6 in France.”

For the center-right daily El Mundo, the French left had regained the presidency “in elections marked by the biggest economic and social crisis of the past half century.”

Japan’s Jiji Press said Hollande’s success and that of the anti-austerity parties in Greece was a warning sign for those pressing for economic reforms in Europe.

In China, an editorial in the Global Times daily argued that Hollande’s victory alone would not in itself be enough to push through debt reform in France.

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