PARIS -- With plenty of circumstance and just a touch of pomp, Francois Hollande became the 24th president of France on Tuesday in a formal investiture at the Elysee Palace.
Hollande, the first Socialist leader of France in 17 years, has made a point of appearing to be "Monsieur Normal," and he arrived for his swearing-in just on time after crossing Paris by car, stopping at traffic lights en route and even waiting in a traffic jam. Normally the boulevards of Paris would be closed to allow such an important convoy to pass.
As he strode down a long red carpet, Hollande, 57, was greeted on the steps of the palace by an unsmiling Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor, who shook his hand without much warmth. The long election campaign that culminated in Hollande's victory May 6 was frequently bitter and bad-tempered, with little love lost between the two men.
Earlier, Hollande's partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, wearing a cream-colored coat, black dress and stiletto heels, walked the red carpet, stopping only briefly to pose for cameras. Several French commentators remarked on the contrast to the 2007 investiture of Sarkozy, who had invited his entire family, including his stepchildren, to the ceremony. Hollande's four children stayed away to avoid accusations that he was mixing his private and public lives.
"Everything is symbolic today," said one French journalist.
Before the ceremony, Hollande and Sarkozy met behind closed doors in the presidential office, the equivalent of the Oval Office, for 30 minutes. Sarkozy and his wife, the supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, then left the Elysee. Before jumping in their car, Bruni-Sarkozy kissed Trierweiler warmly on both cheeks.
At the investiture, Hollande was presented the Grand Croix of the Legion d'Honneur and the symbolic chain of Grand Master of the Legion d'Honneur, made up of a link representing every president.
"On this day I am invested with the highest office of state, I send the French a message of confidence. We are a great country which throughtout its history has risen to difficulties and challenges," Hollande said in his speech.
"My job is to put France back on its feet with justice, to open a new way in Europe, contribute to the peace of the world and the preservation of the planet," Hollande said, despite "massive debt, weak growth, high unemployment ... a Europe that is having difficulty emerging from the crisis."
Hollande pledged to "mobilize the forces and strengths of France. They are considerable." His aim was that "all French, without distinction, should live together around the same values, those of the republic. We are France."
He said he would govern with "dignity but simplicity" and that his government would demonstrate "scrupulous sobriety in behavior." Every decision would be taken on the basis of one word, he said: "justice."
After the investiture, Hollande went to pay traditional tribute to key figures in French history. He chose Jules Ferry, the former government minister who brought free education to France in 1881, and the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie.
He is expected to name his prime minister in the following hours and then fly to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two are expected to clash over how to deal with Europe's debt crisis. Hollande made renegotiating Merkel's cherished European pact on public-spending limits a pillar of his election campaign and has rejected Germany's prescription of heavy austerity for indebted nations.
"I will propose a new pact with our partners involving a reduction of public debt with necessary stimulation of the economy," he said in his speech.
He very briefly, and dryly, said he wished Sarkozy luck "in the new life that opens up for him."
In the Salle des Fetes, Trierweiler bit her lip and looked as if she was about to cry.
A slightly churlish note was struck as Hollande drove into the palace to chants of support for his predecessor. Sarkozy's right-of-center UMP party had called on supporters to rally at the palace to make known their disappointment at his defeat.
-- Kim Willsher
Photo: Francois Hollande, right, arrives at the Elysee Palace to be sworn in as France's new president, succeeding Nicolas Sarkozy, left. Credit: Lionel Bonaventure / AFP/Getty Images