Socialist Francois Hollande wins French presidency

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy today to become France's next president, heralding a change in how Europe tackles its debt crisis and how France flexes its military and diplomatic muscle around the world. 

Exuberant, diverse crowds filled the Place de la Bastille, the iconic plaza of the French Revolution, to fete Hollande's victory, waving French, European and labor union flags and climbing its central column. Leftists are overjoyed to have one of their own in power for the first time since Socialist Francois Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995. 

"Austerity can no longer be inevitable!" Hollande declared in his victory speech Sunday night after a surprising campaign that saw him transform from an unremarkable, mild figure to an increasingly statesmanlike one. 

Sarkozy is the latest victim of a wave of voter anger at government spending cuts around Europe that have tossed out governments and leaders over the past couple of years. 

In Greece, a parliamentary vote Sunday is seen as critical to the country's prospects for pulling out of a deep financial crisis felt in world markets. A state election in Germany and local elections in Italy were seen as tests of support for the national government's policies. 

Hollande promised help for France's downtrodden after years under the Sarkozy, a man many voters saw as too friendly with the rich and blamed for economic troubles.

Hollande said European partners should be relieved and not frightened by his presidency. 

"I am proud to have been capable of giving people hope again," Hollande told huge crowds of supporters in his electoral fiefdom of Tulle in central France. "We will succeed!" 

Hollande inherits an economy that's a driver of the European Union but is deep in debt. He wants more government stimulus, and more government spending in general, despite concerns in the markets that France needs to urgently trim its huge debt. 

While some market players have worried about a Hollande presidency, Jeffrey Bergstrand, professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame, said it's a good thing that Hollande will push for more spending throughout Europe to stimulate the economy. 

Europe is "going into a really serious and poor situation," Bergstrand said. Hollande "is going to become the speaker for those countries that want to do something about economic growth." 

Sarkozy conceded defeat minutes after the polls closed, saying he had called Hollande to wish him "good luck" as the country's new leader. 

Sarkozy, who ran the country through its worst recession since World War II and the ensuing European debt crisis, said he did his best to win a second term, despite widespread anger at his handling of the economy. 

"I bear responsibility ... for the defeat," he said. "I committed myself totally, fully, but I didn't succeed in convincing a majority of French. ... I didn't succeed in making the values we share win." 

Sarkozy came to office on a wave of hope for change that critics say he squandered even before the economic crises hit. They saw his tax reforms as too friendly to the rich, his divorce in office and courtship to supermodel Carla Bruni as unseemly and his sharp tongue as unfitting for his esteemed role. 

With 75 percent of the vote counted, official results showed Hollande with 51.1 percent of the vote compared with Sarkozy's 48.9 percent, the Interior Ministry said. The CSA, TNS-Sofres and Ipsos polling agencies all predicted a Hollande win as well. 

Hollande has virtually no foreign policy experience but he will face his first tests right after his inauguration, which must happen no later than May 16. 

Among his first trips will be to the United States later this month for summits of NATO — where he will announce he is pulling French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year — and the Group of Eight leading world economies. 

Hollande's first challenge will be dealing with Germany: He wants to re-negotiate a hard-won European treaty on budget cuts that Germany's Angela Merkel and Sarkozy had championed. He promises to make his first foreign trip to Berlin to work on a relationship that has been at the heart of Europe's postwar unity. 

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, congratulated Hollande and called for a jointly drafted growth pact. 

"Overcoming the debt crisis is a joint objective, a German-French objective," Westerwelle said. He stressed, however, that a growth pact does not necessarily mean more spending, but that it can also be achieved through enhanced structural reforms. 

At home, Hollande has pledged to tax the very rich at 75 percent of their income, an idea that proved wildly popular among the majority of people who don't make nearly that much. But the measure would only bring in a relatively small amount to the budget, and tax lawyers say France's taxes have always been high and unpredictable and this may not be as much of a shock as it sounds. 

Hollande wants to modify one of Sarkozy's key reforms, over the retirement age, to allow some people to retire at 60 instead of 62. He also plans to increase spending in a range of sectors and wants to ease France off its dependence on nuclear energy. He favors legalizing euthanasia and gay marriage. 

Sarkozy supporters call those proposals misguided. 

"We're going to call France the new Greece," said Laetitia Barone, 19. "Hollande is now very dangerous." 

Sarkozy had said he would quit politics if he lost, but was vague about his plans Sunday night. 

"You can count on me to defend these ideas, convictions," he said, "but my place cannot be the same." 

His political allies turned their attention to parliamentary elections next month. 

People of all ages and different ethnicities celebrated Hollande's victory at the Bastille. Ghylaine Lambrecht, 60, who celebrated the 1981 victory of Mitterrand at the Bastille, was among them. 

"I'm so happy. We had to put up with Sarko for 10 years," she said referring to Sarkozy's time as interior and finance minister and five years as president. "In the last few years the rich have been getting richer. Now long live France, an open democratic France." 

"It's magic!" said Violaine Chenais, 19. "I think Francois Hollande is not perfect, but it's clear France thinks its time to give the left a chance. This means real hope for France. We're going to celebrate with drink and hopefully some dancing." 

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor