iOS app Android app More

Francois Hollande Steals Show In World Stage Debut

By JAMEY KEATEN 05/21/12 11:58 AM ET AP

Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande leaves after posing for a photo during NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

CHICAGO -- In his debut in international summitry, Francois Hollande has made a splash – and held his ground on some sharply defined positions.

France's new leader grabbed attention at both the weekend's Group of Eight summit in Camp David and at the NATO summit in Chicago ending Monday, parlaying his mandate from voters in a May 6 election and showing he has his finger on the pulse of the public back home.

An informal European Union summit on Wednesday will cap his whirlwind first week as French president.

Hollande first sped to Berlin to meet Germany's chancellor, he then painstakingly formed a Socialist-led French Cabinet. He jetted to Washington, where he mused about his cheeseburger fetish in an Oval Office get-to-know with President Barack Obama that helped replace memories of Hollande's America-friendly predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande held firm on his two trenchant positions at the summits: His call for pro-growth measures to juice up Europe's lagging economy overshadowed the G-8 meeting, and his promise to break with NATO by pulling French troops out of Afghanistan ahead of other alliance members weighed heavily on the summit in Chicago.

"There was no embarrassing moment for him, despite the fact that he came right out of the election," said Dominique Moisi, a political analyst with the French Institute of International Relations, IFRI. "The difficulty starts when he comes home ... but we all know there won't be any miracles."

So far, it's mostly been style over substance. Hollande offered few details about how he would put his plans into practice.

The Socialist French president fills a seat that was occupied by Sarkozy, who was often dubbed "Sarko the American" and whose support for a hard line in Iran and NATO's intervention in Libya drew plaudits from U.S. leaders – including Obama. But at home, Sarkozy's brash, in-your-face demeanor in part led to his fall from grace at the ballot box.

So far, Hollande has ushered in a more inclusive style as French president, and the charm offensive has borne fruit. The timing of the summits also played in his favor: Obama, whose re-election hopes hinge in large part on the American economy's prospects, echoed Hollande's call for pro-growth policies at Camp David on Friday and Saturday. That gave Hollande some momentum going into the NATO summit, where some allies frowned on his early-pullout promises both privately and publicly.

Post-electoral honeymoons don't last forever. Much of the questioning that Hollande faced by his trailing press corps centered on his persona, such as his travels in America in 1974 to study a nascent fast food phenomenon and his rapport with other world leaders. Obama playfully teased him for wearing a tie to the casual-dress summit in the Camp David woods and called Hollande his "translator" for French journalists.

When one reporter at a French press scrum outside Hollande's Chicago hotel Monday asked the president if he felt "American," Hollande replied that "I don't know how to take the compliment, if that is one."

"But I try to be a Frenchman, who discusses with the Americans – in the hope of making them understand that we have common interests," he said. "I don't try to play the American, and I don't need to play the Frenchman: Be myself."

It was aw-shucks charm like that that helped put Hollande, a national lawmaker from rural central France, into the presidential Elysee Palace. Hollande made his name nationally for his quick-witted criticism against a string of conservative governments in France over the last decade, while leader of the Socialist Party.

As president, he's morphing from critic to cheerleader. At the summits he subtly claimed credit for France putting on the agenda such ideas as growth, European-supported recapitalization of ailing Spanish banks or eurobonds to help revive Europe's finances. But he's maintained his sober mindset about Europe's big economic problems.

But his personal international rapports are being tested. For all their seeming comity in Berlin last week, Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel have lined up against one another politically on both Afghanistan and their prescriptions for European economic health. She champions austerity, he wants pro-growth policies; in Chicago, she reiterated her "in together, out together" mantra for NATO's Afghan mission.

Hollande came to the U.S. summits a virtual unknown and benefiting from relatively low expectations. He had first-time introductions to Obama, Merkel, prime ministers Dimitri Medvedev of Russia and Britain's David Cameron all this week. An aide to one of the other G-8 summit attendees, who declined to be identified so as to speak freely about inside details, said that Hollande came across as firm, articulate, and knowledgeable about the agenda items.

"So far, so good," the political analyst, Moisi, said of Hollande's debut on the world stage. "I think what he had to prove was that he was a credible president of France. People had thought that he wasn't: Not just `Mr. Normal'" – an image Hollande campaigned on – "but banal."

Loading Slideshow...
  • NATO family photo

    Leaders pose for the family photo at Soldier Field during the NATO Summit on May 20, 2012 in Chicago. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Barack Obama, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Sali Berisha, David Cameron

    President Barack Obama, center, and Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, point out Lake Michigan for British Prime Minister David Cameron, far right, during the group photo of NATO leaders at Soldier Field at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday, May 20, 2012. Also on the riser is Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, far left. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, David Cameron, William Hague

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague during the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

  • Barack Obama, David Cameron

    President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron before a meeting on Afghanistan during the NATO Summit, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Johanna Siguroardottir

    From left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Siguroardottir talk during the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) meeting on Afghanistan at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • World Leaders Take Part In NATO Summit In Chicago

    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 21: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Heydar combs his hair as he arrives for a meeting on Afghanistan during the NATO Summit at McCormick Place on May 21, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. As sixty heads of state converge for the two day summit that will address the situation in Afghanistan among other global defense issues, thousands of demonstrators have taken the streets to protest. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, center, arrive to pose for a photo at the 2012 NATO Summit at McCormick Place, May 20, 2012, in Chicago. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Hamid Karzai

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai, second right, chats with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, left, as Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul, 2nd left, and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, right, look on during the 2012 NATO Summit May 21, 2012, at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Francois Hollande, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

    French President Francois Hollande, right, meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during a bilateral meeting at the Radisson Blu Hotel before attending the opening session of the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday, May 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Yoan Valat, Pool)

  • Hamid Karzai

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai attends a working session on the second day of the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

FOLLOW WORLDPOST

Filed by Clare Richardson  |