Hollande ousts Sarkozy as French President
In what may prove a game-changer for the Eurozone crisis, France has elected Francois Hollande as its first socialist president in 17 years.
Mr Hollande promised to put young people and social justice at the centre of all his decisions for the next five years and warned that Germany would be the first nation to be told that Europe must put growth, employment and prosperity before austerity.
New man at the helm ... Francois Hollande. Photo: AP
"Europe is looking at us," he said. "At the moment the result was proclaimed, I am sure for many countries there was some relief and some hope, the idea that at long last, austerity is not our only fate."
He said the French dream was that each generation would do better than the last. He also promised that no "child of the republic" would be abandoned or left behind or discriminated against, probably a reference to the divisive rhetoric of the anti-immigration French right.
"There are not two Frances that are facing each other," he said. "There is only one France, only one nation.
Conceded defeat ... Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP
"Everyone within the French republic will be treated equally, in rights and in duties as well … The first duty of the president of the republic is to bring people together."
An exit poll by Ipsos suggested Mr Hollande had won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent. He will have to assume the mantle of world leader quickly, with meetings soon scheduled of the G8 (May 18) and NATO, as well as a meeting at Camp David and a European summit.
His ascension will cause unease among other Eurozone leaders, particularly German chancellor Angela Merkel, as he has criticised the hard line of the German-led fiscal pact hammered out to save the euro.
Disappointing loss ... Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's husband Nicolas will no longer be president. Photo: Getty Images
Mr Sarkozy worked in harness with Mrs Merkel's economic plans but Mr Hollande has insisted he will swing France and Europe away from austerity and into policies that promote growth. Europe is suffering from recession and record unemployment.
One of his MPs told reporters earlier in the day that Mr Hollande would phone Mrs Merkel after the result and quickly organise a trip to Berlin.
Within half an hour of polls closing at 8pm local time, former president Nicolas Sarkozy had conceded defeat, saying he had given the campaign his all and asking his supporters to be dignified in the face of loss.
New era ... supporters of Francois Hollande celebrate. Photo: AP
"I bear all the responsibility for this failure," he told thousands of cheering supporters shouting "Nicolas!".
Mr Sarkozy said: "In the case of failure, the man at the top is responsible for that failure."
In a private meeting with senior leaders of his conservative UMP party, Mr Sarkozy warned that it must stay unified in order to win parliamentary elections in June. He said he would not lead the party into those elections.
Waving goodbye ... outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AP
He told his supporters at a public rally, "Francois Hollande is president of France and must be supported" - at which point they booed.
"I suffer from the fact that the institution that I represent was not always well-respected," he said. "Let's not give a bad example. We love France."
He said he had wished Mr Hollande good luck in a telephone call. He thanked voters for his five years in office and said: "Never, never, never will I forget this honour in the life of a man … I gave the job all my energy from the first to the last second."
Mr Sarkozy had said during the campaign that he would leave public life forever if he failed to be re-elected. He is only the second sitting president in 30 years to fail to win a second term.
Thousands had gathered in the iconic Place de Bastille to celebrate the change, many popping champagne corks and some shouting "Sarko en prison!" ("Lock up Sarko!")
This was probably a reference to the investigations into party funding and corruption Mr Sarkozy is due to face, which include allegations that he received millions of euro from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Hollande, who called himself "Mr Normal", and whose slogan was "Change: It's now", will be sworn in as president on May 14 or 15.
He has promised to provide 60,000 more teachers and to cut the retirement age from 62 to 60 for people who have worked for 41 years, but he also says he will balance the French budget by 2017. France has a high deficit and high levels of debt but French people across the political spectrum support a strong welfare state.