Incumbent presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy had long trailed in the polls, but he waged a hard campaign until the end. The electorate ultimately opted for Socialist challenger Francois Hollande.
Nicolas Sarkozy tried nearly every tack against his opponent, but the incumbent French president lost the election. He was present daily in French media during the past weeks: at times, seeking to reach directly out to the French people, and at others, cutting a deliberately polemical and cynical figure.
The Frenchman with the Hungarian and Greek roots is known for his bold declarations.
Sarkozy's high-pressure cleaner
Nicolas Sarkozy came into the international spotlight in 2005: Back then, he visited the family of an 11-year-old boy who had been killed by a stray bullet in a gang fight in the city of La Courneuve near Paris. As interior minister, he was responsible for domestic security in the suburbs of Paris where criminality and unemployment run high.
He used the metaphor of a high-pressure cleaner when talking about the area, stressing it needed to be cleaned up. His comment drew disapproval from many around the world.
Months later, two boys from immigrant families were electrocuted to death in an electric utility substation while fleeing from police. Violent unrest broke out in many areas surrounding Paris as a reaction. Cars were burned and Sarkozy's hard-line approach to domestic security came into favor.
His presence in the media was assured by way of tough verbal attacks, as when he commented: "The people who set a bus on fire and caused an infant of 18 months to have to go to the hospital, I say to you: You are garbage."
Emphasis on security
Beforehand, Sarkozy had served from 1983 to 2002 as mayor of the wealthy Parisian suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. But as minister of the interior first under Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, later under Dominique de Villepin, Sarkozy was able to tackle his favorite topics of immigration and security.
Those who live in France and want to profit from doing so must respect the law was his unmistakable message.
On May 6, 2007, he was elected president of France. The former interior minister soon discovered his approach to foreign policy, as well. During his inaugural visit to Berlin, he explained that there is nothing worth sacrificing the German-French relationship for after it had endured so many trials.
Sarkozy's profile abroad
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sarkozy seemed to enjoy demonstrating German-French good will often. As the eurozone debt crisis raged, their alliance solidified and they were seen as the duo who might be able to lead Europe out of the crisis.
Even beyond Europe, Sarkozy showed himself to be a decisive figure in foreign affairs. At his urging, France became the first European state to recognize the Libyan interim government in 2011. Sarkozy advocated – in contrast to the German government - air strikes against Libya in order to topple Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
Sarkozy's willingness to adopt strong positions did not win him favor at home, and his approval ratings had long been low ahead of the 2012 presidential election. The electorate was most interested in how their future president would create jobs, provide a social safety net and get an upper hand on the debt crisis.
On these issues, Sarkozy could not win the voters' trust, and the stories about his colorful private life with his third wife, ex-model Carla Bruni, and daughter Giulia, did little to help things.
But in March 2012, Sarkozy seemed to have turned the page, due in part to the shocking murders in Toulouse and Montauban in which seven people, including three Jewish children and a teacher, were killed.
"That is an attack on France," Sarkozy wrote in his letter to the French people, allowing him the chance to return to his favorite theme: domestic security. As president, he showed himself to be statesmanlike during the crisis and had success. The shooter was arrested shortly after the attacks, and Sarkozy immediately announced new anti-terror laws.
The incumbent's poll numbers rose, and he found himself in a head-to-head race with Socialist opponent Francois Hollande.
Second round defeat
Sarkozy tried again and again to present himself as the agile and active statesman - and Hollande as the opposite. Only with drive could the eurocrisis that had wracked France for the last four years be overcome, Sarkozy told voters. And he was happy to resort to pathos in doing so: "France has suffered, but it has survived the crisis because we have acted. Indecisiveness would have been our ruin."
As Sunday's polls show, Sarkozy's campaign approach was not enough to overcome the lead Hollande had taken with the voters. A new chapter begins for France, but the problems that defined Sarkozy's term remain.
Author: Daphne Grathwohl / gsw
Editor: Gregg Benzow