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New President in France

May 7th, 2012

France's 2012 President-elect Francois Hollande. Photo credit: Flickr user Parti socilaiste/Phillipe Grangeaud

Francois Hollande (pronounced Ol-ahnd) was elected as France’s new president over the weekend.

Many people had predicted Mr. Hollande would beat out President Nicholas Sarkozy, France’s president for the past 5 years. Mr. Sarkozy was hoping to be re-elected for 5 more years.

The results were a bit closer than expected, but Mr. Hollande won just over half the votes.

French voters’ main concern was the country’s economy, which isn’t doing that well. France owes a lot of money, as do many European countries right now, and that has produced a simmering crisis. Some people didn’t believe Mr. Sarkozy did an adequate job to try and fix it.

France is a small country geographically (about the size of Colorado and Wyoming put together), but it’s the 2nd largest economy in Europe and the 5th largest economy in the world, according to The Christian Science Monitor newspaper,  so there’s a lot at stake.

Mr. Hollande’s ideas on how to produce more jobs and business activity are different from Mr. Sarkozy’s. Mr. Hollande is a socialist. That means he believes that the government should have more control over businesses and economic decision making. At its most basic, the idea is that when government ensures that the wealth of the country is shared more equally, then everyone does better in the long run. This is not the first time France has had a socialist government.

In more capitalist countries, like the U.S., government has less say in how its citizens’ businesses are run and how the fruits of everyone’s labors are distributed through taxes and other government regulations. Capitalism can allow for more innovation, but it also tends to produce a bigger gap between the very rich and the very poor. Socialism and capitalism are difficult to put into practice.

Some of Mr. Hollande’s plans include making wealthier people pay higher taxes and spending money to try to help grow the economy. Not everyone who voted for him agree this is the right way to go, but many believed it was time to try something new.

Internationally, Mr. Hollande wants to end France’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, bringing French troops home by the end of this year. President Obama, on the other hand, announced last week that U.S. will be out of Afghanistan in 2014 — two years from now. That is as fast as he feels comfortable leaving.

The war in Afghanistan has been going on for ten years and began as a search for terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden. He was believed to have planned the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. from there. Bin Laden was killed one year ago . Both the U.S. and France are members of NATO , the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — a group of European and North American countries who decide together which international conflicts to get involved in and protect each other.

President Obama has reportedly already called the “president-elect” to congratulate him. That’s Mr Hollande’s official title until he’s formally sworn-in as president at his inauguration May 15 or 16. President Obama has also invited him to the White House. It will be one of Mr. Hollande’s first stops as France’s new president. He’s expected to come to the U.S. later this month.

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