Francois Hollande was elected France’s first Socialist president in nearly two decades on Sunday, dealing a humiliating defeat to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and shaking up European politics.
The result will have major implications for Europe as it struggles to emerge from a financial crisis and for France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy and a nuclear-armed permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Hollande won the vote with about 52 percent, according to several estimates from polling firms based on ballot samples, becoming France’s first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.
Sarkozy quickly conceded defeat and signaled that he intends to step back from frontline politics.
“I bear the full responsibility for this defeat,” Sarkozy said, indicating he would withdraw from frontline politics.
“My place can no longer be the same. My involvement in the life of my country will be different from now on.”
Punished for his failure to rein in 10 percent unemployment and for his brash personal style, Sarkozy was the 11th euro zone leader in succession to be swept from power since the currency bloc’s debt crisis began in 2009.
In his victory speech, Hollande thanked his supporters for electing him president and promised to be a leader to unite the whole country.
“On this May 6, the French have just chosen change in bearing me to the office of president,” the 57-year-old candidate declared before a wildly cheering crowd in his hometown of Tulle.
Hollande warned fellow European leaders that he would push ahead with his vow to refocus EU fiscal efforts from austerity to growth.
“Europe is watching us,” Hollande told cheering supporters shortly after his defeat of right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy was confirmed.
“I am sure that when the result was announced, in many European countries there was relief, hope and the notion that finally austerity can no longer be the only option,” he said.
“And this is the mission that is now mine -- to give the European project a dimension of growth, employment, prosperity, in short, a future,” he said.
“This is what I will say as soon as possible to our European partners and first of all to Germany, in the name of the friendship that links us and in the name of our shared responsibility.”
“We are not just any country on the planet, just any nation in the world, we are France.”
The election was marked by fears over European Union-imposed austerity and globalization, and Hollande has said his first foreign meeting will be with German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- the key driver of EU budget policy.
The French vote coincides with an election in Greece, where exit polls showed the country’s two main parties suffering big losses for landing the country in its bleak economic state.
Anger over sputtering economies has brought down leaders from Ireland to Portugal since the debt crisis washed over the European continent.
Berlin moved quickly to establish ties with Hollande, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle vowing “close partnership” between the two nations and saying: “We will work together on a growth pact.”
Hollande is expected to be sworn in by May 15 and after seeing Merkel will quickly set off for a series of international meetings, including a G8 summit in the US on May 18-19 and NATO gathering in Chicago on May 20-21.
The Socialists, Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP and France’s other political parties will now be focused on a parliamentary election to be held over two rounds on June 10 and June 17.