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Hollande and Merkel vow to seek growth for Europe

Hours after being sworn in as France’s new head of state on Tuesday, François Hollande capped a marathon first day as French president with a trip to Berlin, where he and Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to work together to drag Europe out of crisis.

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Newly inaugurated French President François Hollande held talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, just hours after being sworn in as the seventh president of France's Fifth Republic.

His first official trip as head of state offered Hollande a first taste of international diplomacy for a summit that had been much hyped in the media.

As one of his pre-election promises Hollande had vowed to renegotiate the EU fiscal pact to include growth-boosting measures and allow for a loosening of the purse strings.

But Merkel, who had openly sided with incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy during the campaign, had already poured cold water on that idea, warning that Europe’s austerity cure was not negotiable.

Tuesday’s summit was billed as the first of many predicted clashes between the two leaders, but in a joint press conference they were eager to present a united front.

Hollande said Germany and France would “put all ideas and all proposals on the table” to generate economic growth in Europe, an issue on which Merkel claimed she and Hollande had “points in common”.

"Everything has to be looked at anew by everyone," insisted Hollande.

Both leaders also reaffirmed their desire for Greece to stay in the eurozone and hoped Greek voters would show this when the country holds a rerun of the recent parliamentary elections on June 17.

“I hope that we can say to the Greeks that Europe is ready to add measures to help growth and support economic activity so that there is a return to growth in Greece,” Hollande said.

The two leaders agreed the two countries will present their ideas for how to foster economic growth when they meet again on May 23 and then at a Council of Europe summit at the end of June.

"It will be very important that Germany and France present their ideas
together at this summit," Merkel said.

FRANCE 24’s Europe editor Christophe Robeet said the duo’s differences of opinion were evident despite the united front they presented.

“Hollande seemed more relaxed in his role to me and was quite self-confident. At times Merkel looked puzzled when he spoke and I am not sure she appreciated everything he said,” Robeet said.

Hollande’s trip to Berlin had been briefly delayed when his plane was forced to turn back to Paris for safety reasons after apparently being struck by lightning en route. The new president quickly swapped aircrafts for "safety concerns" and set off once again for the German capital.

The duo's first face to face talks eventually got underway more than an hour later than planned and were due to be followed by what had been labelled a “working dinner”.

Inauguration day
 
Hollande had arrived at the Elysée Palace at 10am where he was greeted by the man he defeated to become president of France just 10 days ago.
 
Nicolas Sarkozy ushered his successor into a private chamber for a brief handover where sensitive dossiers and the country’s nuclear codes were formally entrusted to the new head of state.
 
Hollande’s official swearing-in ceremony was a swift low-key service after which he was joined by his partner, the journalist Valérie Trierweiler.
 
Once all the necessary papers had been signed Hollande was driven up the Champs Elysées in an open-topped classic Citreon car accompanied by a troop of guards on horseback.
 
Despite the stormy weather a rain-soaked Hollande remained upbeat, waving and smiling to the crowds who had lined the famous avenue.
 
He then laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe before continuing the traditions of inauguration day by paying homage to two significant figures of French history.
 
At the Tuileries Gardens the new president honoured the19th century education reformer Jules Ferry, who is considered the father of France’s free and secular education system.
 
Hollande then paid homage to Polish-born scientist Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner at the Marie Curie Institute in Paris’ fifth arrondissement.
 
“Marie Curie was born in Poland but welcomed by France,’ Hollande said, in a pointed attack on those on the political right who had campaign on an anti-immigration agenda.
 
Then as the sun came out Hollande continued his journey around the French capital by heading to the Hôtel de Ville on the banks of the river Seine where the mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë and around 400 invited guests gave him a standing ovation.
 
One of those guests, Jean-Marc Ayrault, was officially named as the new French prime minister at around 5pm, in what proved to be the president’s first significant decision of his presidency.
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