France president-elect Hollande has full plate

Associated Press Modified: May 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm •  Published: May 7, 2012
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PARIS (AP) — On his whirlwind first day since winning the French presidential election, Socialist Francois Hollande was set to embark on a crash course in international politics, with a critical visit to Berlin, an invite to the White House, and two top summits already on the agenda.

The leftist who has pledged to buck Europe's austerity trend and NATO's timetable for Afghanistan has virtually no foreign policy experience, and he will have very little time to catch up before he officially becomes France's new president on May 15 — and must defend his policies to skeptical foreign leaders who worked with defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

He acknowledged Monday that his office was in a "transition phase" and that he was still preparing for international meetings, but insisted he would stand by his promises.

"What I said as candidate I will do as president," he said. But he added, "Now, I am the president of everyone," not just his supporters on the left.

Hollande has said his first act after the election will be to write a letter to other European leaders calling for a renegotiation of a budget-trimming treaty aimed at bringing the continent's economies closer together — a stance that puts him at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Hollande will make his first trip abroad the day after he takes office, to Berlin to meet with Merkel. She was the first international leader to congratulate him, but she made clear he will not have a smooth road, cautioning against hope that the austerity measures could now be renegotiated. "We in Germany, and I, personally, believe the fiscal pact is not up for negotiation," she said.

President Barack Obama has extended Hollande an invitation to the White House ahead of this month's summit of the Group of Eight leading economies at Camp David, Maryland, in a phone conversation described as "very warm and substantial," Pierre Moscovici, the man in charge of the president-elect's transition team, told reporters.

After that, Hollande will attend a NATO summit in Chicago, where he is expected to announce he is pulling French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. NATO maintained Monday it expects France to remain committed to Afghanistan despite his campaign pledge to accelerate the withdrawal.

The G-20 and a European summit lie ahead in June — when critical parliamentary elections will be held.

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

Hollande said Monday he'll announce his new prime minister the same day day he becomes president. The new leftist government will be announced before he leaves for Berlin the following day. In France, the prime minister appoints the government and the president approves it.

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