Pugnacious, explosive and ever-strident, Nicolas Sarkozy steps off the stage in French politics and newly elected President Francois Hollande takes his place.
With the presidential inauguration set for May 15th, followed immediately by bilateral talks in the U.S. with President Barack Obama, a G8 summit at Camp David, and NATO summit in Chicago – all within a week – Mr. Hollande steps in to the pressure-cooker of French, European and global politics.
Mr. Hollande will commit missteps and gaffes. But here are five ways he will likely distinguish himself from his predecessor.
No sunset walks
The October 2010 scene in which Mr. Sarkozy and Angela Merkel discussed how to rescue the European economy during a sunset walk at the French seaside resort of Deauville suggested a close relationship.
Behind the postcard-perfect image of Franco-German relations was a marriage of convenience between two leaders – or Merkozy, as it was dubbed – who could not be more different and who disliked each.
In private, as the New York Times reported in January 2011, the German chancellor likened him to Mr. Bean while the French president called her by the offensive French reference for “Kraut.”
“But they know that they need to keep going for the sake of the kids – that is, for the sake of Europe,” wrote the Times.
Enter Mr. Hollande – the politician who pitched himself to voters as “a normal candidate for a normal presidency” as opposed to the “bling-bling” president, which is how the French press dubbed Mr. Sarkozy and his lavish ways.
For all the talk about a showdown between the newly elected French leader and the German Chancellor over Europe’s austerity program, the two will look a lot like Mr. and Mrs. Normal. But don’t expect any sunset walks.
No volcanic temper
Francois Hollande showed that he could hold his ground when he faced his rival in a bitter and animated televised debate ahead of Sunday’s presidential vote.
But does the newly elected president have the Sarkozy temper? The kind that made the French president, during a 2007 U.S. vacation in New Hampshire, jump from his boat in to another boat and confront American news photographers?
“[President Sarkozy]was happy and smiling and he waved at the security people as he was coming out,” as one photographer recalled the president’s boat of the trip on Lake Winnipesaukee. “And then he noticed us taking pictures and his happy demeanour diminished immediately.”
The president’s boat was steered in the direction of the boat carrying the photographers. Wearing only his swim trunks, Mr. Sarkozy jumped in to the boat and started shouting.
“The president was very agitated, speaking French at a loud volume very rapidly,” a second photographer recalled.
With Mr. Hollande, American news photographers can probably feel safe.
No more telling voters to ‘get lost’
Mr. Hollande will certainly face his share of angry citizens, as Mr. Sarkozy no doubt did during his term as president.
At the Salon International de l’Agriculture in 2008, a member of the audience told Mr. Sarkozy, when refusing to shake the president’s hand: “Oh no, don’t touch me, you’ll dirty me.”
Mr. Sarkozy snapped back: “Get lost then you bloody idiot, just get lost!”
The outbursts continued in to this year’s election campaign.
When taking a question in March about clashes in France between striking steel workers and police, Mr. Sarkozy told the young journalist: “Do you think I give a damn about what you say? What do you expect me to say?” he said, adding, “What a dummy!”
There was a slap on the reporter’s shoulder, the eventual apology, and a friendly comment: “He’s nice really. He’s young.”
Mr. Hollande attacked Mr. Sarkozy during the political campaign for “vulgarity” – quality that many French voters disliked in their president.
No more Sarkozy ‘excess’
Mr. Sarkozy celebrated his election victory five years ago on a friend’s yacht and in one of the glitziest restaurants in Paris – a fact mocked by his rival in the year’s presidential contest.
During a campaign rally this year, he could be seen removing an expensive luxury watch before pushing his hand in to the crowd to greet supporters. The move left some to wonder whether he was afraid it might be stolen, or perhaps he wished to hide the wealth.
Mr. Sarkozy managed to offend Catholics when he was caught sneaking a peek at his BlackBerry during an audience with the Pope.
The gaffe made French philosopher Pascal Bruckner conclude that Mr. Sarkozy was, in fact, “like a figure from Italian comedy.”
“He desecrates everything,” Mr. Bruckner told New Yorker magazine.
No more open-mic gaffes
Mr. Hollande will be looking to build relationships with world leaders at the G8 and NATO summits later this month. He would be wise to restrict any off-hand comments in case the microphone is live.
His predecessor, Mr. Sarkozy, let out the worst-kept secret when an open microphone caught him telling President Barack Obama that he thought the Israeli prime minister was a “liar” and could not stand him.
To which Mr. Obama replied: “You’re fed up, but I have to deal with him every day.”
Mr. Hollande does not have the familiarity with world leaders that can sometimes result in a candid, off-hand comment. Such mistakes may not be career-ending, but they can very embarrassing as this short history of open microphone gaffes illustrates.