Francois Hollande was on Tuesday officially inaugurated as the 7th President of France's Fifth Republic, marking a return to the left after 17 years of conservative rule. Throughout this long day of pomp and circumstance, the President made it a point to underscore his difference from his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he defeated on May 6.
Unlike Mr. Sarkozy who tried to create his own Kennedy-style presidential myth five years ago when he arrived at the Elysee flanked by then wife Cecilia and their recomposed family (children from earlier marriages in addition to those they had together), Mr. Hollande came without encumbrances, accompanied only by his present companion Ms. Valerie Trierweiler.
Mr. Sarkozy and the new President met in private for some 35 minutes when the outgoing head of state reportedly communicated “the nuclear codes” to his successor. After the formal handing over of power marked by a 21-gun salute, Mr. Hollande said he would exercise power with “dignity and simplicity”.
The second major moment of his inauguration was a speech on state education which he described as “the weapon of republican justice and equality”. Mr. Hollande said France needed an “impartial State, of peace and reconciliation”.
In a second speech at the Tuileries gardens, Mr. Hollande discussed education, paying homage to Jules Ferry, father of France's free and compulsory state schools. However, he also criticised Ferry's defence of colonisation as “a moral mistake”. Mr. Hollande had been criticised for wishing to honour the memory of Jules Ferry, especially in French overseas departments and territories such as Guadeloupe or Reunion. In another symbolic gesture, he paid homage to Marie Curie, the distinguished scientist of Polish origin, the only woman to have won the Nobel Prize for both physics and Chemistry.
After a reception in his honour hosted by the mayor of Paris, Mr Hollande flew to Berlin for one of the most important meetings on his calendar this week, dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said he hoped “to open a new way forward” within Europe and underlined the urgent need for “reciprocity” in commercial exchanges between Europe and the rest of the world.
Before take off Mr. Hollande's chief of staff announced the name of his new Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Socialist MP and the Mayor of Nantes.
Mr. Hollande will be facing several major diplomatic tests this week. He is to dine with Ms Merkel later Tuesday night, and though the Chancellor has been weakened by her defeat in local elections, she has stood firm on the question of fiscal discipline. Immediately after, he will meet his American counterpart Barak Obama and then his G8 partners and NATO allies in two separate summit meetings in the U.S. NATO heads are expected to take Mr. Hollande to task for his unilateral decision to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule.
The war in Afghanistan will top the agenda at the Group of Eight and NATO meetings in Camp David and Chicago.
“Without wanting to take risks, I believe it is time to withdraw our combat troops by the end of 2012,” said Mr. Hollande said on 2nd May, four days before he defeated conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. “I will announce this decision at the NATO summit.”
Despite his plans to challenge both Ms. Merkel on Europe's fiscal pact and Mr. Obama over the Afghanistan pullout timetable, Mr. Hollande's aides say his conciliatory personality should make for positive diplomacy, the Reuters agency reported.
Helping him through the transition, Mr. Hollande has appointed Sinophile Paul Jean-Ortiz, a career diplomat, who most recently headed up the Foreign Ministry's Asia department, as his diplomatic sherpa. Mr. Jean-Oritz is a Mandrin speaker and was until recently the Director for Asia and Oceania at the French foreign ministry.