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France ushers in new era with understated Hollande

François Hollande won France’s presidential election by vowing to break with predecessor’s Nicolas Sarkozy’s much criticized flashiness and plans for fiscal austerity. Inauguration day gives Hollande his first chance to deliver on those promises.

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France’s president-elect François Hollande takes over the reins of power on Tuesday and is expected to waste no time in putting his stamp on the presidency.

His first day at the office will begin with his inauguration ceremony in Paris and end in Berlin with what could be a tense dinner date with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Hollande, a Socialist, will use both occasions to mark the distinction between him and his right-wing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Having campaigned on a promise of being a “normal” president, he will be sworn into power in an appropriately ‘sober’ ceremony that is expected to set tone for his five-year term in office.

No family affair

During his time at the Elysée, Nicolas Sarkozy, who became known as the ‘bling-bling’ president, was often criticised for riding roughshod over the traditions of the French presidency.

10am – Private meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace

10.45am – Hollande is sworn in as the seventh president of the fifth republic when he makes his inauguration address

11.15am – Hollande heads up the Champs Elysée in an open top classic Citroen car where he will pay homage at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

12.30pm - The president dines with Socialist Party bigwigs at the Elysée Palace

1.45pm – Hollande gives a speech at the Tuileries in front of the statue of Jules Ferry before a visit to the Marie Curie Institute

3pm – Hollande heads off to the Hôtel de Ville where he will be greeted by the Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë.

4pm – Hollande flies to Berlin for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
 

Those accusations began on the day of his own inauguration ceremony in 2007 when Sarkozy broke with tradition by choosing to put his family at the centre of the ritual.

In front of millions of TV viewers, Sarkozy’s then wife Cecilia, whose relationship with the president was already on its last legs, made a grand entrance accompanied by their five children, in a scene many considered more akin to the more casual style of US presidential inaugurations.

But neither Hollande's children nor those of his partner Valerie Trierweiler were due to be present at Tuesday's ceremony.

Ségolène Royal, former partner of Hollande and mother of his four children, defended the decision to have a family-free service.

“My children do not wish to be present,” said the 2007 presidential runner-up. “It’s François Hollande who was elected president of the republic, not his family, friends or partner.”

Hollande’s children may not be present, but he will be surrounded by members of his political family – the Socialist Party, of which he has been a member for 33 years.

Traditions observed, figures honoured

Hollande’s first day in the country’s top job will begin at the leisurely time of 10am when he will be welcomed at the Elysée Palace by Sarkozy for a brief meeting behind closed doors.

The 20-minute meeting is not simply for Sarkozy to show Hollande around his new home but to handover various sensitive dossiers as well as the secret codes for the country’s nuclear weapons.

Hollande will then be formally sworn into his new job when he reads his inauguration address, with a 21-cannon salute officially marking the handover of power.

After visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, Hollande will continue the tradition of the inauguration day by paying homage to symbolic figures of French history.

Having promised to put youth and education at the heart of his mandate, the new president has chosen to honour the 19th century education reformer Jules Ferry, who is considered the father of France’s free and secular education system.

Hollande will also pay homage to Polish-born scientist Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner, in what many see as the new president making a point to those on the right who had campaigned for less immigration.

Vincent Peillon, who has been mentioned as a possible education minister, said Curie was chosen because she “was welcomed to France and became part of its proud community”.

Meeting with Merkel

Hollande, who has never before held a government post, will then begin his new job in earnest once the ceremony is over.

His first significant task will be to name his prime minister. He looks set to snub Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, who finished second behind Hollande in last year’s party primaries.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the mayor of Nantes and moderate leader of the Socialists in parliament, is seen as a safer choice.

France’s new president will then fly to Berlin for a much-hyped first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Hollande will be hoping his diplomatic skills, built up through years of dealing with a fractured Socialist Party, can be transferred to the international arena.

Merkel openly supported Sarkozy during the presidential campaign and their close working relationship, especially in thrashing out the eurozone’s fiscal treaty, led to the pair being dubbed “Merkozy”.

In contrast Hollande and Merkel are already being referred to jokingly as ‘MerDe’ by sections of the international media who believe the duo are set for a rocky relationship.

That union will begin with a “working dinner” during which Hollande is expected to try and crack Merkel’s resistance to his wishes to renegotiate the EU fiscal pact, his predecessor was so proud of.

Hollande wants the treaty to include growth measures but his German counterpart has already poured cold water on the idea by stating that the pact is not up for renegotiation.

“There will be a hand-shake, we will get to know each other and we will have a chance to speak frankly about the future of Europe,” Hollande said in an interview with France 2 on the eve of his visit to Germany.

Given an immediate opportunity to make his mark, Hollande may well find his first day at the helm is anything but normal.

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