French President Francois Hollande has touched down in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Socialist president's first trip abroad comes just hours after he was sworn into office.
President Hollande arrived in Germany on Tuesday evening for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, albeit an hour late. Earlier in the day, the jet transporting him was hit by lightning en route to Berlin and forced to land back in Paris, though Holland was unharmed and took off in another plane, according to a presidential source.
The two leaders were to hold initial talks and then participate in a news conference, followed by a working dinner.
Before leaving for Germany, newly elected Hollande chose his Socialist colleague, Jean-Marc Ayrault to be France's new prime minister on Tuesday. Ayrault, who is the long-standing leader of the Socialists in the National Assembly, is widely viewed as a moderate.
Ayrault succeeds Francois Fillon who served in former President Nicolas Sarkozy's government from 2007. Like Hollande, Ayrault has never been a minister. He has been a member of parliament since 1986 and repeatedly elected as mayor of Nantes since 1989.
The 62-year-old Ayrault is a former German teacher and a Germanophile, which may prove useful when it comes to building a relationship with France's powerful neighbor, especially since the political compatibility between Hollande and Merkel, who leads the conservative Christian Democratic Union, has been questioned. Ayrault's talent for keeping the often difficult Socialist parliamentary bloc in line may also have tipped the balance in his favor.
Prior to his appointment, some had questioned whether a stain on his public record might keep him from getting the job. Ayrault received a six-month suspended sentence in 1997 for favoritism in the awarding of a public contract, although the conviction was officially wiped from the record in 2007.
Earlier in the day, at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Francois Hollande was inaugurated as the successor to Nicolas Sarkozy as the French president.
Hollande then gave a speech to about 400 guests at the swearing-in ceremony, reaffirming the stance he ran on in the election that Europe should focus on economic growth.
"I will propose to my European partners a pact that ties the necessary reduction of deficit to the indispensable stimulation of the economy," he said.
mz/sej/pfd (Reuters, dpa, AFP)