Hollande pledges ‘to finish with austerity’

In a whirlwind first day after winning the French presidency, Socialist François Hollande already has a to-do list that includes an invite to the White House, visits to the G8 and Nato summits, and a Second World War ceremony with his defeated rival.

Hollande, who has pledged to buck Europe’s austerity trend and Nato’s timetable for Afghanistan, appeared before thronging crowds on Paris’s Place de la Bastille early yesterday, pledging “to finish with austerity”.

Hours later, he was back at work, arriving at his campaign headquarters at around 10.30am.

Hollande will officially become president on May 15, the date for the handover ceremony that the two campaign teams agreed to yesterday.

He has his work cut out to fulfil the hopes his victory has stirred on France’s left, overjoyed to have one of their own in power for the first time since François Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995.

He must form a new government, then pack his bags for some quick international travel in Europe and to the US.

Even before his start date, the president-elect is due to appear alongside Nicolas Sarkozy at a ceremony tomorrow marking the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

US president Barack Obama has extended Hollande an invitation to the White House ahead of this month’s summit of the G8 at Camp David, Maryland. After that, Hollande will attend a Nato summit in Chicago, where he will announce he is pulling French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Among the other international leaders calling to congratulate Hollande was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told reporters in Berlin that she and Hollande had spoken for the first time late on Sunday.

“We said we will work well and intensively together,” she said. On Merkel’s invitation, Hollande will head to Berlin after assuming the presidency, Pierre Moscovici, who served as campaign manager, told reporters.

Merkel cautioned against hopes that the austerity measures already agreed by European leaders could now be renegotiated. “We in Germany, and I personally, believe the fiscal pact is not up for negotiation.”

While some market players have worried about an Hollande presidency, the rating agency Standard and Poor’s said his election “has no immediate impact” on France’s AA+ credit rating or negative outlook.

Final results from France’s presidential election show Hollande narrowly defeated Nicolas Sarkozy with 51.62% of the vote, or 1.13m of the 37m votes cast in Sunday’s election.

Sarkozy, who finished the first round about 500,000 votes behind Hollande, failed in his bid to attract sufficient votes from supporters of the far-right anti-EU and anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party.

Le Pen refused to endorse either candidate and said she would cast a blank vote. In that, she was followed by more than 2m others, a total far higher than in previous elections.

Hollande has pledged to tax the very rich at 75% of their income, an idea that proved wildly popular among the majority of people who do not make nearly that much.

However, the measure would only bring in a relatively small amount to the budget, with experts saying France’s taxes have always been high and unpredictable.

Hollande wants to modify one of Sarkozy’s key reforms, over the retirement age, to allow some people to retire at 60 instead of 62. He wants to hire more teachers and increase spending in a range of sectors, and ease France off its dependence on nuclear energy. He also favours legalising euthanasia and gay marriage.

Hollande has said his first act after the election will be to write a letter to other European leaders calling for a renegotiation of the fiscal compact treaty aimed at bringing the continent’s economies closer together.


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