Socialist Hollande wins French presidency over Sarkozy
BY ANGELA CHARLTON & ELAINE GANLEY Associated Press
Monday, May 07, 2012
5/07/12 at 5:24 AM
Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday 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.
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.
Hollande promised help for France's downtrodden after years under 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 urgently needs to trim its huge debt.
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 of 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.
At home, Hollande has pledged to tax the 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.
Original Print Headline: Socialist's victory in France dampens push for austerity
Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande and his companion, Valerie Trierweiler, wave Sunday during a tour through villages near Tulle, France, after voting in the second round of the French elections. Hollande won over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. BOB EDME / Associated Press