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Hollande, the man 'no one saw coming,' prepares to lead France (+video)

Once characterized as unassuming and almost banal, France's president-elect, François Hollande, is now being tagged as 'savvy' and 'steely.'

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Hollande was born in Rouen. He was close to his mother, a leftist Catholic social worker; his father was a doctor and right-wing ideologue. He was educated by monks in Normandy. He went to high school in Neuilly, the same wealthy Paris suburb where Sarkozy was once mayor and where the Hollandes moved at age 14. His four closest friends from high school later went on to be star comedians in Les Bronzes, a popular set of films. Hollande himself is known for his love of humor and jokes.

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He was influenced early on by the 1968 radical-left student movement in Paris. He graduated seventh in his class from France’s elite École Nationale d'Administration – where he met Ms. Royale, his former partner and mother of his four children – in 1980.

Holland and Royale were political protégés of François Mitterrand, who was elected president on the Socialist ticket in 1981. On European issues, Hollande sat at the feet of the eminent Jacques Delors, architect of a broader, deeper, antinationalistic political integration that inspired the European Union

This side of Hollande emerged in debates inside the Socialist Party two years ago over the Lisbon Treaty, which created a more comprehensive structure for the European Union and which Hollande backed. During the 2012 campaign, Hollande championed the smaller nations of Europe that he said were being herded into a Franco-German dictate on austerity.

“Hollande is the opposite of the anti-Europe factions that emerged in this [2012] campaign” on both the far-left and far-right, says Arun Kapil of Catholic University of Paris. “He is not a Euroskeptic.”

Hollande describes himself not as a card-carrying “leftist,” but rather a pragmatic social democrat, a Keynesian advocating a “kinder, gentler” austerity model for Europe amid its economic crisis. He is unlikely to veer France in any radical direction of public spending. He said in Le Monde before the election that the revolutionary zeal of socialism in the 19th century has matured and tempered, and is seen more today in ideas of progress rather than angry militancy.

“Progress is no longer an ideology but it remains a fertile idea. I am a militant of progress," he said in Le Monde.

His campaign promises to tax income over $1.3 million at a 75 percent rate and to hire 60,000 more teachers have yet to be fleshed out and it's not clear yet whether he'll be able to carry them out.

Hollande has also indicated that he does not intend to carry on the French-German powerhouse partnership that earned Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel the nickname "Merkozy." While other European leaders have spoken out against Germany's control over the eurozone's recovery efforts, as head of the No. 2 economy in Europe, Hollande is the first EU leader able to challenge Ms. Merkel.

“As much as I believe in a Franco-German engine,” he said in a profile in Slate.fr today, “I contest the idea of a duo-poly,” to run Europe. “This balance has been modified in the last few years. The Franco-German relationship has been exclusive,” to the detriment of the "most fragile states,” he said.

More on all matters Hollande is forthcoming: French media today report that seven new biographies on the next president are pending. 

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