Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy today 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. 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. 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 after a surprising campaign that saw him transform from an unremarkable, mild figure to an increasingly statesmanlike one. 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. Sarkozy conceded defeat minutes after the polls closed, saying he had called Hollande to wish him "good luck" as the country's new leader. (Read more Nicolas Sarkozy stories.)