It’s official: the République française will soon have a new leader.
The people of France ousted incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy today in a runoff election, denying the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement) leader a second term in favor of Socialist François Hollande, who has called for more investment in France’s public services and fewer austerity measures. The closely-watched election is expected to have significant repercussions, particularly in Europe, which is still trying to shake off a fiscal crisis.
“My dear countrymen: On this day, May the 6th, the French have chosen change, and have elected me to the Presidency of the Republic,” Hollande told supporters in a victory speech in Tulle. “I am keenly aware of the honor done to me and of the greatness of the task ahead of me. And, here before you, I undertake to serve my country — with the devotion and the exemplariness required of this high office.”
Sarkozy, meanwhile, conceded defeat. He accepted “total responsibility” for the results and wished Hollande well, acknowledging him as the President-elect of the Republic. “My involvement in the life of my country will be different now,” Sarkozy told supporters. “But time will never weaken the ties between us.”
For those unfamiliar with French politics, Sarkozy’s party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), and Hollande’s party, the Parti socialiste (PS), are the two major political parties in France. They are, to some extent, the equivalent of the Republican and Democratic parties here in the United States, though not quite as dominant (France’s minor parties are stronger than America’s minor parties). Ideologically, the UMP is considered to be right wing (though not far right) and the PS is considered to be left wing (though not far left).
The just-concluded presidential election has been characterized by many observers as a referendum on Nicolas Sarkozy, who came to power five years ago and, for a time, enjoyed widespread support. His popularity has since tanked, in part due to his embrace of ineffective austerity measures as a response to the the worldwide financial crisis and accompanying economic downturn.
The White House announced that President Obama had already reached out to President-elect Hollande. According to Press Secretary Jay Carney, the two men spoke briefly by telephone after the outcome of the election became known.
President Obama called President-elect Francois Hollande of France to congratulate him after the results of the French election were announced today. President Obama indicated that he looks forward to working closely with Mr. Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges. President Obama noted that he will welcome President-elect Hollande to Camp David for the G‑8 Summit and to Chicago for the NATO Summit later this month, and proposed that they meet beforehand at the White House. President Obama and President-elect Hollande each reaffirmed the important and enduring alliance between the people of the United States and France.
Hollande has also spoken with the democratically-chosen leader of the United Kingdom, a spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed:
The Prime Minister called President-Elect Hollande this evening and congratulated him on his victory. They both look forward to working very closely together in the future and building on the very close relationship that already exists between the UK and France.
Hollande, who will be sworn into office very soon (possibly a week from tomorrow) is expected to travel to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel, like Cameron, had supported Sarkozy’s reelection campaign, but will now have to get used to working with Hollande, who will be France’s president for at least the next five years. Sarkozy’s defeat isn’t the only loss Merkel will be ruminating over during the course of the next few days; her own party is performing poorly in local elections today in Germany.