Hollande's victory: The world ponders a major shift

France’s François Hollande was elected president on May 6, ending President Nicolas Sarkozy’s five-year term in office. Mr. Hollande, leader of France's Socialist Party, ran on a platform of incorporating efforts to boost economic growth into the austerity measures that have so far constituted the eurozone's strategy for dealing with the debt crisis. His election is being held up as a turning point – not just for France but the eurozone as a whole.

Laurent Cipriani/AP
Paris buildings reflect in a shop window displaying the cover of a magazine with a picture of President-elect Francois Hollande in Paris on Monday, May 7.

The driving forces behind France's 2012 election

Laurent Cipriani/AP
A woman pauses to look a the cover of L'Express magazine which carries a picture of President-elect François Hollande in Paris Monday, May 7.

Over the past three years, the European Union has faced increasing austerity measures – like large-scale cuts in public spending, and increased taxes – in an effort to rein in mounting public debt. Germany, Europe's No. 1 economy, and France, its No. 2, were steadfast in backing austerity as the EU's path back toward a strong economic bloc. In fact, austerity measures are so associated with France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel that the leaders were often referred to as a packaged deal: Merkozy.

Yet many Europeans are tiring of the high unemployment rates, lost pensions, and in some cases, contracting economies that have accompanied austerity in the region. And as France entered a presidential election year, a Socialist Party candidate came to the fore calling for a new – and by some accounts improbable – approach to rescuing the eurozone.

François Hollande ran a victorious campaign that promoted a policy of blending growth policies into austerity measures, arguing that in order to recover, Europe needs investment as well as consumer and business spending. He also called for a more unified European approach, instead of relying so heavily on German-sourced solutions.  He is the first socialist president to take France's presidency in 17 years, and for many he represents a new center-left influence in the region.

With talk of renegotiating economic pacts and softening austerity measures, Mr. Hollande represents a challenge to Mrs. Merkel's tough line on cutting spending – one that is bolstered by May 6's strong anti-austerity vote in Greece and growing anti-austerity demonstrations across Europe.

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