Hollande's plane hit by lightning on way to Germany
FRANCOIS Hollande's trip to Germany for crucial talks with Angela Merkel got off to the worst possible start after his plane was forced to return to Paris after it was struck by lightning.
Presidential sources said that Mr Hollande, who was sworn in as President of France earlier today, had already taken off from the capital in a second plane.
He is expected to be delayed by about 90 minutes for the meeting.
"The plane could have been hit by lightning. It turned back for safety reasons. Right now, the president has left again," a ministry spokesman said.
Mr Hollande, a Socialist, is naturally at odds with Chancellor Merkel's Europe-wide austerity measures. His trip is seen as an attempt to smooth over differences between the two key economies in the eurozone.
Earlier, he sent an instant message to Mrs Merkel, saying he wanted to "open a new path" in Europe, including a "new" EU pact.
Mr Hollande, 57, the first socialist leader of France since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995, officially took over from Nicolas Sarkozy in a relatively low-key inaugural ceremony at the Elysée Palace this morning.
Strengthened by the symbolism of the occasion, Mr Hollande wasted no time issuing a strong message to the German Chancellor, who he will meet later today for talks in Berlin.
“Today many peoples, starting with those in Europe, are awaiting and watching us. To overcome the crisis hitting it, Europe needs projects, it needs solidarity, it needs growth,” he said.
“To our partners I will propose a new pact that will combine the necessary reduction of public debt with indispensible stimulation of the economy,” said Mr Hollande.
Mr Hollande has championed the idea of renegotiating the fiscal pact that enshrines budgetary discipline in the eurozone to include a growth chapter. Mrs Merkel is categorical that the pact, signed by 25 of the 27 EU countries and already ratified in some, must stay as it is.
Mr Hollande was at pains not to downplay the constraints his country faces,
"I take stock today of the force of the pressures our country is under: massive debt, feeble growth, high unemployment, damaged competitiveness, a Europe that is struggling to get out of the crisis," Hollande told a select group of dignitaries at the Elysee Palace.
"Nothing is inevitable as long as we are driven by a common will, as long as a clear course has been set, and we apply all our strength and the assets of France."
"Such is the mandate I have received from the French people on May 6. Put France back on its feet with justice, open a new path in Europe, contribute to world peace and to the preservation of the planet," he said.