Sarkozy telephoned Hollande to concede defeat and, in an address to his followers, called on them to accept it in a dignified manner.
“Francois Hollande is president of France,” he said. “He should be respected. I want to wish him good luck amid the challenges.”
The outcome turned Sarkozy into the latest political leader to fall victim to the European economic implosion of the past four years. Widely predicted, his loss put him in the tracks of politicians in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Britain who have been voted out of power at least in part because they were identified with hard times for Western Europe’s traditionally comfortable economies.
Hollande’s triumph in turn was tempered by the still-fragile economic situation in France, which hems in the victor no matter what his ideology with a need to increase taxes and reduce government expenditures to lower a crushing $2 trillion government debt. In any case, Hollande’s free-market, social-democracy version of socialism carried no pledges of radical change — unlike the nationalizations that followed his party’s last presidential victory, when Francois Mitterrand rose to power in 1981.
In a victory address, however, Hollande emphasized that he intends to insist with fellow European leaders that more effort be placed on economic stimulus measures alongside the austerity that has plunged much of Europe into recession. He promised “a new departure for Europe” in which addressing growth and unemployment would get equal priority with balancing budgets.
With that in mind, aides said, his first telephone call would go to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and his first trip as president would be to Berlin.
Aside from the emphasis on austerity in the European Union, Hollande’s major foreign-policy difference with the pro-American Sarkozy was over the timetable for withdrawal of about 3,600 French military personnel from the highly unpopular Afghanistan war, including about 2,400 combat troops.
Sarkozy had pledged to have combat units out by the end of 2013, slightly ahead of the schedule set by NATO and the United States. But Hollande promised voters he would bring home the combat troops by the end of this year, leaving in place only military instructors and logistics specialists to ship back equipment.
From longtime aide to leader
Hollande’s victory marked an astounding rise to the summit for a man who made his reputation as an amenable aide to the powerful and who has never held high national office. Good-humored and overweight, he was given little chance when he declared his candidacy well over a year ago, even by some fellow Socialists, who derided him as “the marshmallow” because of his conciliatory approach to problem-solving.