They say that lightning never strikes twice. Indeed, this is what François Hollande will be hoping, after his flight to Berlin suffered a direct hit from a celestial high-voltage bolt. For safety reasons, the plane was routed back to Paris and Hollande’s participation in a crucial Franco-German economic summit was delayed by an hour. The strike was the culmination of a day of low-key drama, high-octane engagements, and atrocious weather during François Hollande’s inauguration as President of France.
No sooner had Hollande and France bid goodbye to former President Nicolas Sarkozy on the red carpet of the Elysée Palace, when the Paris sky darkened and the rain poured. Hollande was then obliged to stand, stoically, and endure the marching bands and official ceremonies, whilst the rain soaked through his suit.
Some will merely ascribe such phenomena to an imperfect, unpredictable European climate; others will seek to point to the weather as an ominous sign of the stormy horizon ahead for France’s 24th President.
François Hollande has arrived to high office with huge popular expectations, but faces challenges which far outweigh his predecessor. He must seek to promote growth yet cut-back on the French state’s expenditure. He has promised to hire more teachers – effectively, more civil-servants – but needs to find the resources to pay for them. Finally, he has demanded a ‘growth compact’ with other Eurozone members but has yet to help solve the perennial and dangerous problem of Greece’s debt restructuring fiasco.
During the campaign, Hollande had talked of Justice and wanting to redress an economy, and a society, he felt was broken after the five years of his predecessor’s presidency. Now he has the office he has so fervently sought, and the challenges that brings, as well as the multiple poisoned chalices.
Undoubtedly, his inauguration is redolent with historical symbolism, both for France and the wider European community. Hollande is at the vanguard of a left-wing, anti-incumbent feeling that is politically lashing Europe, as many voters on this fiscally benighted continent seek an easier, less painful alternative to austerity and belt-tightening.
Hollande has made promises he now has to find how to keep. Beyond symbolic cuts to his salary and those of his ministers, he needs to address France’s spending and its over-reliance on state spending. It will clearly be a theme to be examined more in-depth as the months wear on. However, it is clear that Hollande will not be able to fully deliver on many of his election promises.
The Augurs of Ancient Rome were priests whose duty it was to interpret the future through physical manifestations. On their words and interpretations hung political careers, business transactions, wars and, arguably, the fate of the whole Roman Empire. One wonders what such men would have made of the rain, the storm, and the lightening strike today, at a time when the metaphorical economic storm clouds gather evermore over Europe.
Maybe a Roman Augur would choose to hail the beginning of a very Greek tragedy within the forthcoming few months, with François Hollande as key actor.