Sarkozy holds 'emotional' last French cabinet meet

AFP , Wednesday 9 May 2012

Nicolas Sarkozy meets with his cabinet for the last time before handing over the power to the newly elected President Francois Hollande

Outgoing French President Sarkozy and PM Fillon attend ceremony at Tomb of Unknown Soldier at Arc de Triomphe to commemorate end of World War II, in Paris, Tuesday (Photo: Reuters)

Outgoing French leader Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet met for its last session on Wednesday as president-elect Francois Hollande held talks with top Socialists to gear up for next month's parliamentary vote.

Hollande also held consultations on forming a government and preparing for his first foreign visit, to Berlin, where he is expected to get a frosty reception over his plans to renegotiate the European fiscal austerity pact.

The cabinet meeting was "emotional", participants said, with ministers giving Sarkozy a standing ovation after he told them he wished Hollande "good luck" following his election win on Sunday.

"Nicolas Sarkozy's main commitment in 2007, to put France on the move, has been met," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said after the session.

"We did this with a number of reforms that no one else managed, and we did it during a climate of crisis."

Government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said Fillon would tender the cabinet's resignation on Thursday and that it would take effect when Hollande is inaugurated on May 15.

Hollande meanwhile met with senior party officials at his campaign headquarters, where talks focused on securing the Socialists a majority in the two-round parliamentary vote on June 10 and 17.

"We are closing one period and opening another, that of the parliamentary elections," party leader Martine Aubry told journalists. "It is important not to slacken our efforts."

Winning in June will be crucial for the Socialists as the president requires a parliamentary majority to maintain a government -- otherwise the prime minister is in charge of the cabinet.

Sarkozy's ministers were also starting to focus on the vote, with the trade and tourism minister, Frederic Lefebvre, saying the centre-right UMP was confident of claiming a majority in parliament.

"Five weeks from now is the moment of reconquest, five weeks from now is the road to hope," he told BFMTV after the cabinet meeting.

Hollande's transition chief Pierre Moscovici said the handover was going smoothly and praised Sarkozy for helping things along.

Sarkozy "ran a tough campaign, but he has chosen to make a dignified exit," Moscovici told Europe 1 radio. "The handover is taking place under easy conditions."

Sarkozy indicated on Sunday that he was retiring from frontline politics.

His communications advisor Franck Louvrier said Sarkozy was preparing to return to his former life as a lawyer at the Paris firm he still partly owns, after taking a break with his wife Carla Bruni and their baby daughter.

Hollande is facing a packed international agenda after his inauguration and pressure was already building on the Socialist to stand by France's austerity commitments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear she will not renegotiate the fiscal pact setting tough budgetary rules for European Union states, which she spearheaded along with Sarkozy.

In a letter to Hollande on Tuesday, she said she welcomed talks with the Socialist but that Europe was counting on France and Germany to take the "necessary decisions" to resolve the bloc's debt crisis.

A German member of the European Central Bank's board also warned France to honour its fiscal commitments.

"I expect France to implement the fiscal pact unchanged," Joerg Asmussen told the German daily Handelsblatt in an interview published Wednesday.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also said Wednesday that there would be no renegotiation of the pact.

Hollande promised cheering supporters Sunday that he would reopen talks to ensure the EU fiscal pact focused on growth rather than simply imposing deficit-cutting austerity rules.

An aide to Hollande said that EU president Herman Van Rompuy would meet the Socialist on Wednesday in Paris, and have talks Thursday with the Eurogroup chief, Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker.

Van Rompuy is to host an informal dinner of the bloc's leaders on May 23 ahead of an EU summit on June 28 and 29 that is expected to focus on growth.

Observers say there will be room for compromise as Hollande may accept additional measures to foster growth while retaining the austerity pact's original wording.

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