Jacques Chirac, the conservative who won France’s presidency on his third try earlier this month, took the oath of office Wednesday, vowing to heal the social and economic wounds left by recession and make France more vibrant under a new generation of political leadership.
“I feel that hope has been vested in me,” Chirac, 62, said as a 21-gun salute boomed out and his Socialist predecessor, Francois Mitterrand, 78, relinquished Elysee Palace after 14 years.
Mitterrand, who is suffering from prostate cancer, went to a reception that members of his party held for him. He told them that though he would not live to see it, their day would come again despite Chirac’s victory with more than 52 percent of the vote on May 7.
The conservatives, now in control of all of the political institutions of the country, have to try to solve a problem that defeated Mitterrand - France’s 12.2 percent unemployment rate. Chirac pledged to make reducing it his main priority.
After traveling in an open-topped Citroen limousine past cheering crowds lining the Champs Elysees to pay tribute to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, Chirac returned to his new residence.
He named Alain Juppe, 49, a technocrat who has been one of his most loyal supporters, as his prime minister.
The government that Juppe is expected to announce today will apparently include both a ministry of solidarity between generations and a ministry to deal with the long-term unemployed and the homeless, both products of the “social fracture” that Chirac criticized during his campaign.
Nervousness about how much money he will spend to heal it has made the franc highly unstable on the currency markets this week.
The new president and his prime minister will also have to decide within days whether to continue taking part in an increasingly hollow U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia or withdraw the 4,500 French troops serving with it. France has lost 37 soldiers and had 450 wounded there.
Juppe, who served as foreign minister in Prime Minister Edouard Balladur’s conservative government, has demanded authority for the peacekeepers to defend themselves against attack.
France also wants diplomatic steps taken to restore the cease-fire that expired in April.
Since domestic politics dominated the campaign, the new government’s first step will be to secure approval for a package of measures promised by Chirac to stimulate job creation.
The most important one is a reduction in payroll taxes on low-income salaries.