“I think it’s going to be more uncomfortable for the Germans. There’s no doubt that the French under Mr. Hollande will be a more difficult partner for them,” said Simon Tilford, senior economist at the Centre for European Reform in London.
Still, as voices questioning Europe’s austerity drive grow louder across the Continent, many doubt that Mr. Hollande will be able to implement the growth measures on which he campaigned.
“Much will depend on the situation in France, on the market reactions, and on the attitude of our European partners, but there is great uncertainty,” said Iana Dreyer of the Institut Montaigne, a think tank in Paris. “The real constraint is the current budget constraint, which leaves a very little room to maneuver.”
French voters echoed those concerns.
“I’m afraid Hollande won’t be able to implement the policies he wants, so either he will end up pursuing Sarkozy’s policies but in a less efficient way, or he’ll just do nothing,” said marketing executive Martin Billie, 38, of Paris. “But these are times when we most need action.”
Some also question Mr. Hollande’s lack of foreign policy experience. Geopolitics played a minor role in the campaign, and where he has discussed issues beyond Europe, there are signs that his policies may diverge from Mr. Sarkozy’s close alignment with the U.S. — for example pulling out of Afghanistan a year earlier than planned.
Still, Mr. Hollande has stressed that France and the U.S. are friends and partners, and some observers say that the new president’s diplomatic style could be a breath of fresh air after a French leader who once told British Prime Minister David Cameron to “shut up” at an EU summit.
The far-right factor
“Compared to Sarkozy, who did not hesitate to brutalize our European partners and even the G-20, our partners will find in Francois Hollande a president who can also take into account their national interests and be able to maintain a higher quality of diplomatic relations than Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Olivier Ferrand, head of the Paris-based think tank Terra Nova.
The election also served the interests of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who took 18 percent in the first round of the presidential vote April 22 — an unprecedented result for the far-right party.
Ms. Le Pen refused to back either of the candidates in Sunday’s runoff, appealing to her supporters to cast a “vote blanc” (“none of the above”). Analysts said this could have contributed to Mr. Sarkozy’s downfall as far-right voters withheld their support even as he moved his platform further to the right.
Some say Mr. Sarkozy, whose presidency has been characterized by moves to limit immigration and bans on Islamic veils and halal meat, has alienated centrist voters with talk of “too many immigrants” and the need to close borders.
“Fundamentally, Sarkozy has moved [his party] to an increasingly polarized and right-wing party, standing at the gates of the far right,” Mr. Ferrand said. “This movement has been greatly intensified during the campaign of the second round. … Before Sarkozy, [the rejection of diversity, Islam and immigration] was confined to the margins of the republic; no government party had ever endorsed such positions.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Le Pen has set her sights on parliamentary elections in June, when she will aim to translate support for her presidential bid into seats in the National Assembly and challenge Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for Popular Movement party as the major force of right-wing French politics.
“If [Ms. Le Pen] can get a good score in [June] elections and even if she manages to win one or two MPs in the National Assembly, she will exert pressure to implode the UMP,” said Frederic Micheau, deputy director of polling institute Ifop, in Paris.