Q&A: Hollande's challenges as president of France

France's first Socialist president in 17 years campaigned on a platform of change, both at home and in the eurozone.

Expectations are high among Francois Hollande's supporters, hoping to reverse what they saw as the divisive policies of his conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

For Germany and other eurozone states, it is still unclear to what extent Mr Hollande is someone they can do business with.

Just how weak is the French economy?

GDP showed no growth in the first quarter of 2012, according to official statistics agency Insee. This mirrors the eurozone as a whole. Some analysts expect French GDP to start contracting in the second quarter of 2012, raising fears of a recession. Mr Hollande has built his programme around an expectation of 0.5% growth for the first year, rising to 1.7% in 2013. However, some expect him to lower these forecasts in a budget review scheduled for July.

How does Mr Hollande aim to stimulate growth?

He is proposing large infrastructure projects, to be paid for through bonds. Critics argue that you cannot cure Europe's debt crisis by increasing debt further still. Mr Hollande is equally committed to cutting France's budget deficit from 4.4% this year to 3% in 2013 - an ambitious target given that the European Commission forecasts it will fall to only 4.2%, and some economists predict a figure of 4.6%.

How will the books be balanced?

Partially through new taxes on banking and higher income tax, including a startling 75% proposal for those earning more than 1m euros. However, Mr Hollande has qualified his plans by saying an audit of France's bank accounts will be carried out before any of his campaign promises are enacted.

Is there much ice to break with Berlin?

The German government has made clear it sees strict austerity measures as the key to ending the eurozone debt crisis. It has signalled it may accept more flexible use of EU structural funds, a bigger role for the European Investment Bank and the use of "project bonds" to boost infrastructure in struggling eurozone states. But this falls short of borrowing to stimulate growth. Any "growth pact" agreed between Berlin and Paris will be very modest, analysts say.

So no more "Merkozy" cosiness?

Actually, it is quite possible Mr Hollande will develop a better working relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel than the previous French president had. The two leaders are seen as more traditionally European than Mr Sarkozy and share other similarities. "They are both very human people: uncomplicated, easy going and unpretentious," an unnamed external adviser to Mr Hollande told Reuters. "They both have a keen sense of humour. People who know them feel they will gel better than Merkel did with Sarkozy."

How much time will voters give him?

Mr Hollande is under pressure to deliver returns early. This is especially true in France where parliamentary elections follow hot on the heels of a presidential poll. Opinion polls for the June elections suggest the Socialists will need the support of the radical Left Front to form a government. With the left no longer able to concentrate its fire on Mr Sarkozy - one of the most unpopular presidents in recent memory - the focus may be firmly on economic policy.

But women should be happy, right?

Mr Hollande has said he will have an equal number of men and women in his cabinet. One problem is the lack of women politicians he can draw upon, given that they account for less than a fifth of MPs (Le Monde). The acid test for many feminists is which posts he gives to women. It has not been forgotten that the last government which took power pledging to end political sexism - Alain Juppe's cabinet of 1995 - appointed women to junior positions, and most lost their jobs in the first reshuffle. Nicolas Sarkozy, by contrast, appointed high-powered women ministers such as Christine Lagarde, who ran finance until she moved to the IMF.

Will French soldiers really be coming home for Christmas from Afghanistan?

Mr Hollande has pledged to withdraw forces by the end of 2012, two years ahead of schedule. With 3,400 personnel, France has the fifth-biggest contingent on the ground and British and US leaders are said to want Mr Hollande to delay the withdrawal until at least 2013. The issue will be on the agenda for Nato's Chicago summit on 20 May.

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