Paris, France – The headline of Le Nouvel Observateur has made clear the feelings of French voters who selected challenger Francois Hollande over centre-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the country’s presidential runoff.
“At last,” announced the front page of the left-leaning weekly on Monday, in the aftermath of an election that had polarised the French public and drawn scrutiny from governments across the eurozone.
Other reactions from French media also fell along partisan lines. Left-wing outlets celebrated the end of the Sarkozy era in no uncertain terms, while the conservative press underscored the daunting fiscal challenges ahead.
Le Figaro, which had endorsed Sarkozy, warned of a “new European crisis” under the president-elect.
“Nothing is possible without a European agreement. To reach that, the best thing would be to abandon the strange idea of renegotiating a stability pact and accepting an add-on on growth,” the paper wrote.
For the most part, however, the media was welcoming to Hollande. Le Nouvel Observateur suggested the new leader had been misjudged during the presidential race.
“We have all written about his fragility, about the impression he gave to be the little newcomer in a class of big ones, about this affable roundness and this mischievous cheerfulness, that were supposed to dispel his ambitions […] With Hollande, we made a delightful mistake.”
The paper’s columnist, Jean Daniel, went further, writing: “I have discovered in Francois Hollande all the components of what one can call wisdom.”
The leftist daily Liberation also used the phrase “At last” as the title of its supportive editorial. Even so, its front page headline read “Normal!” – in reference to Hollande’s pledge to mark a departure from the extravagant lifestyle led by Sarkozy – the leader dubbed “President Bling-Bling”.
The paper wrote: “In a damaged France, which could have chosen to retreat behind imaginary borders while brooding over its past, Francois Hollande’s victory shows that the country prefers hope.”
The editorial in the economic daily Les Echos portrayed Hollande as a man who had grown into his role as a presidential candidate.
“Francois Hollande, president of the republic, means the victory of a man that saw himself as president when nobody else imagined it,” the paper said.
Les Echos also cautioned, however, that France could not afford a spending spree amid the country’s deep economic crisis.
“Our country has been living well beyond its means for decades. It needs a healthier base on which it can bounce back. The challenge is as much an ethical as a political, economic and social one … Between discouraging the rich and humiliating the poor, there is a median way, dictated by moderation and common sense.”
The country’s biggest daily, the centre-left Le Monde, reminded readers that Hollande won a “tight victory, which won’t ensure that the Socialists automatically win a majority in parliament” in the June general elections.
Still, the paper said a change was already apparent in leadership on Sunday.
Unlike a victorious Sarkozy in 2007, Hollande did not choose a fancy restaurant to celebrate his victory. Instead, he partied in the Cathedral Square in his hometown Tulle, and at Bastille Square in Paris.
“A new way of ruling, less flamboyant, closer to the French people, less divisive and guided by a concern for equality.” Le Monde’s editorial read.
The French press was quick to speculate on the reasons behind Sarkozy’s fall from grace. The Catholic daily La Croix said his electoral loss was a result of both his personality and policies.
“Nicolas Sarkozy’s rejection is due not only to his governing style, but also to the bitter taste left by his reforms,” the paper’s editorial said.
“Francois Hollande knows that a large part of the voters that chose him have done so to block the outgoing president or because the candidate of their choice was not present in the second round. He knows he won’t have time to breathe.”
The weekly L’Express, a centrist magazine, agreed.
“Nicolas Sarkozy has been punished in the ballot for his style, for having been the president he was, and maybe even more for not having been the president who was expected,” the magazine wrote, adding, “Nicolas Sarkozy has also been chastised, ousted, because his policies failed.”
Left-wing daily L’Humanite described Hollande’s 51.6 per cent against Sarkozy’s 48.4 as a “Large victory for Hollande”, and predicted that his victory could bring about political change in Europe.
“The French are not isolated in Europe. The Greek elections yesterday have seen an assertive left bounce forward, becoming the second largest force in the country. Other elections will follow.”
Follow Cajsa Wikstrom on Twitter: @cajsa_w