As it happened: Presidential election in France

Key points

  • Francois Hollande has beaten Nicolas Sarkozy by three and a half points, with 99% of the vote counted.
  • Conceding his rival's victory, Mr Sarkozy wished him luck in a phone call.
  • France has not had a Socialist president for 17 years, since the late Francois Mitterrand.
  • The eurozone was a key issue: Mr Hollande insists on adding growth measures to the fiscal pact negotiated by Mr Sarkozy.
  • The far right won nearly a fifth of the vote in the first round and has its eyes on parliamentary elections next month.
  • All times in BST (GMT -1 hour; mainland French time +1 hour)

    Welcome to our live coverage of the presidential election in France. Final votes are being cast in the second and deciding round. Follow us for updates on the results, analysis from BBC correspondents and comment from readers in France and abroad.


    First results released on close of polls at 19:00 (20:00 French time) usually provide an accurate picture of the final outcome. Election officials base these results on a representative sample of votes cast by 17:00, when polling stations outside the big cities close.


    This image shows scrutineers putting ballots on a table prior to the counting of votes at a polling station in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.

    Scrutineers put ballots on a table prior to the counting of votes at a polling station in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, 6 May

    Whoever wins may face a major challenge in the eurozone with exit polls in Greece suggesting that the mainstream pro-austerity parties have suffered big losses in the parliamentary election.


    If you prefer to watch your news or hear it, BBC World News and BBC News Channel are all broadcasting live from France as I write, with BBC World Service joining them shortly.


    Many are sceptical that France will be able to generate strong growth again soon, so what are the candidates proposing to do? Our business desk has done this detailed comparison of Mr Hollande's policies with those of Mr Sarkozy.


    Remember, you can follow our election news story and check out our special report on one of the most intriguing French elections in living memory.


    For images of "La belle France" at the polls, try our photo gallery.


    Just heard that Nicolas Sarkozy has read out a statement to his cabinet ministers.


    Seeing footage of a huge, cheerful crowd outside Socialist headquarters in Paris.


    BREAKING NEWS Francois Hollande has won by about 52% to 48% for Nicolas Sarkozy, polling groups estimate.


    Those first results usually give a fairly accurate picture of the final outcome so it looks fairly certain: the Socialists are back in power in the Elysee Palace.


    It is a humiliating blow for Nicolas Sarkozy, rejected by voters after just one term in office.


    Partial official results confirming victory for Francois Hollande.


    Photo 5: Saying it with flowers: This image shows symbolic red roses being brandished outside Socialist headquarters in Paris earlier today.

    Socialist supporters brandish red roses outside party headquarters in Paris, 6 May

    Hollande supporter Franck Mutin, in Mantes-la-Ville, has just told me: "Never again a president like Sarkozy! His last speech in Les Sables was full of hate, insulting, provocative."


    Danielle Romero, an activist for the ruling UMP party in Rocbaron, near Toulon, tells me she voted for Mr Sarkozy because she wanted to see France "staying on the path of renewal and not falling back into the bad habits" of the Mitterrand years.

    1910: The BBC's Katya Adler

    tweets: Sarkozy has had to fight against himself, his image in French people's eyes, more than against his Socialist opponent.


    Mr Sarkozy has just said he will not lead his UMP party into the parliamentary elections next month. He urged party unity.


    Mr Sarkozy's words to top party officials, as quoted by AFP: "Stay together. We must win the battle of the legislatives. I will not lead that campaign."


    Call for Mr Hollande: This image shows the Socialist candidate - now poised to be France's new leader - speaking into a phone after casting his vote this morning in his adopted home town of Tulle, central France.

    Francois Hollande makes a phone call after voting in Tulle, central France, 6 May
    Stu Hillman in Bellac, France

    writes: Sad to see Sarko on his way out. As a US expat living in France his "tell it like it is" attitude resonated with me - so much better than the bunch from the US and the UK.


    Update from Hollande supporter Franck Mutin in Mantes-la-Ville: "France is going to become France again. United, showing more solidarity, Republican. Even if everything has to be rebuilt now."

    David Cunningham in La Chatre, France

    writes: My French wife is a Sarkozy supporter and she is really worried for the future now. This is a terrible result for France which will now become like Greece and Spain.


    Live footage of the crowds outside Socialist headquarters in Paris shows people cheering, waving flags, hoisting children into the air, one man pumping the air with his fist.


    Nicolas Sarkozy has just conceded victory. Speaking now.


    Mr Sarkozy: "Our country is much greater than we are."


    Voice strained, Mr Sarkozy thanks cheering supporters at his party headquarters in Paris, saying it was an honour to have served France.


    Mr Sarkozy: "I gave you my all." Deafening cheer from supporters and chant of "Nicolas! Nicolas!"


    Mr Sarkozy takes all the responsibility for his defeat on himself because, he says, he is a man who takes responsibility. Ear-splitting cheers and applause from his supporters.

    Arm Den in the US

    writes: Those who voted for Hollande were not around in 1981, some were not even not born, they don't remember the fiasco that Mitterrand was for France. Give them two to three years for the reality to hit. Socialism has never worked and will never work.


    That presidential wave: This image shows Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, after voting in Paris earlier today.

    Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni, waves after voting in Paris, 6 May

    Mr Sarkozy speaks passionately of his love for "France the eternal" before thanking all his ecstatic supporters at party HQ.


    Mr Sarkozy phoned Mr Hollande to wish him "good luck".


    I spoke to Guillaume Journeaux, a 36-year-old grocer in the Socialist stronghold of Lille who has been campaigning for French conservative candidates since 1995, and who voted for Mr Sarkozy today.

    Back in 2007, he had his doubts, but Mr Sarkozy proved in office he had "deep experience, a realistic vision of things, an astonishing energy and an unbroken determination".


    Mr Journeaux concedes Francois Hollande is an "experienced politician who fought a skilful campaign". "He won his bet by thrashing Nicolas Sarkozy over his record in office while deliberately omitting the context," he argues.

    Marine Z in France

    writes: It is such a relief to finally witness a candidate from the Left win the elections. Francois Hollande is the right choice. He may lack experience but he will learn, like Mitterrand did in 1981.


    Regaining the presidency is a triumph for the Socialists but the story is not over there: a new parliament is to be elected on 10-17 June in the country which made famous/notorious the term "cohabitation".


    This image shows Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front (FN), voting in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. She promised to cast a blank vote, saying Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande were "Siamese twins politically".

    French National Front leader Marine Le Pen votes in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, 6 May

    As France's next leader, Mr Hollande must contend with the fact that the FN, which campaigns against immigration, "Islamisation" and the euro, won 17.9% of the vote on 22 April.


    Remember, you can follow our election news story and check out our special report on this night of victory for the French left.

    Simon Webb in Belfast, UK

    writes: Fantastic result for the French people. This marks a shift in Europe back to the left which is essential to end austerity, restore economic growth and clear the deficit.


    He has been described as a "true statesman" capable of crossing party lines - by former conservative President Jacques Chirac, no less. So just who is Francois Hollande? Read our profile.

    1943: BBC's Christian Fraser at Socialist HQ:

    "Very excited scenes here. A real party has begun and not just at Socialist headquarters in the Rue Solferino in Paris but thousands of people are already congregating at the Bastille."


    Francois Hollande about to speak, French broadcaster TF1 says.


    Another full quote from Mr Sarkozy's concession speech to his supporters: "In this new age, I will remain one of you. But my place cannot be the same."


    Hollande supporter Franck Mutin, in in Mantes-la-Ville, says Mr Sarkozy "finally" showed some dignity when he spoke tonight.


    Segolene Royal, Mr Hollande's former partner and mother of his four children, says she had a "feeling of profound joy to see millions and millions of French renew the tie to the left". Especially sweet for her, perhaps, as she lost to Mr Sarkozy in 2007.

    1955: BBC's Emma Jane Kirby at Sarkozy headquarters:

    "There have been a lot of tears here tonight. Right up until the last moment people were shouting, "We're going to win!"


    What could have been? This image shows Dominique Strauss-Kahn arriving to vote in Sarcelles, near Paris. Nearly a year ago, he was still regarded as the strongest candidate for the Socialist ticket. His arrest in New York on attempted rape charges put an end to that, as well as his career as head of the IMF. The charges were later dropped.

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrives to vote in Sarcelles, near Paris, 6 May
    1956: BBC's Chris Morris

    tweets: "Former Socialist defence minister Alain Richard tells me, 'We know this isn't an easy time to take power'. Wise words"

    Kim Chassagne in Chateauponsac, France

    writes: "A very sad day for France! Me and my French husband could see France moving forward under Sarkozy but now we are scared it will fall back to the Mitterrand days with Hollande voicing the same ideas that have dragged France backwards for years."


    Grey skies and rain showers greeted voters in mainland France today but turnout was still high: 80.2% according to French TV.

    Khalil in Paris, France

    writes: Paris is full of cheers, laughter and happy tears. People are dancing, enjoying this victory. The people have given their verdict in support of a more open, just and liberal government.


    While we are waiting for Mr Hollande to speak, a reminder of his pledges, which are to

    • Renegotiate the euro budget deal with Germany to focus on growth rather than austerity
    • Balance the budget through higher taxes on rich and big firms, rather than spending cuts
    • Hire 60,000 school workers
    • Lower the pension age from 62 to 60 for some workers
    James Wand in Nottingham, UK

    writes: Good to see such a close battle and a high turnout. It embarrasses us here in the UK and indicates a wave of true change, youth lead.

    Christopher Lord in La Chapelle, France

    writes: Sarko took France collectively for a ride, and now the ride is over. Hollande is not a very exciting alternative, but at least France will be recognisably French again - humanist, humane, a bit too intellectual, a bit unrealistic.


    Germany will work with France on a growth pact for Europe, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said in reaction to the results (AFP). He described Mr Hollande's election as a "historic event".

    The BBC's Katya Adler

    tweets: "The fight for the political right in France begins... The far right hopes to capitalise from Sarko's defeat tonight."

    2015: The BBC's Katya Adler at Mr Sarkozy's headquarters

    adds: "People here feel Mr Sarkozy was maligned by what they describe as France's left-wing press."

    Anna Abel in Blosville, France

    writes: How can France afford to pay for all these extra teachers? How can France afford to pay enormous pensions to people who retire at 60? Sarkozy is a realist, Hollande is a populist.

    The BBC's Katya Adler

    tweets: "Sarko became president 5 years ago with pop mandate for change. This bulldog of French politics tonight became the underdog"


    This image shows a Hollande supporter cheering from a car in Paris.

    A Hollande supporter cheers from a car in Paris, 6 May

    Seeing live footage of Francois Hollande making his way through the cheering, whooping crowd to deliver his victory speech in Tulle.


    Mr Hollande on stage now, waiting for cheers to subside.


    France has chosen change, Mr Hollande says. "I undertake to serve my country with devotion and in exemplary fashion." Pays tribute to Mr Sarkozy.


    "Change begins now," Mr Hollande tells the crowd in Tulle, his constituency town in central France. "I will be the president of everyone."

    The BBC's Katya Adler

    tweets: "Tonight Sarko seemed determined to confound labels that haunted him. Not a speech of arrogant elitist. Did he learn too late?"


    "Judge me on justice and on the young," Mr Hollande says. Those will be the two chief criteria by which his presidency should be judged, he tells the crowd in Tulle.

    Michel Grollemund in Labaroche, France

    writes: Tomorrow, when the markets wonder what the eurozone can do for Greece, all will look at France and Germany. Then Mr Hollande will have no choice but to follow Mrs Merkel - that will be the first big slap for those who voted for him.


    Mr Hollande: "Everyone in the Republic will be treated equally in their rights and duties."


    This image shows Mr Sarkozy speaking earlier to his supporters in Paris, admitting his defeat.

    Nicolas Sarkozy addressing supporters in Paris, 6 May

    Mr Hollande says the "French dream" is "simply called progress". He has, he says, always been a man of the left.

    2039: The BBC's Katya Adler

    tweets: "At Sarkozy's election HQ not a tricolour flag remains.. Everyone has given up and gone home."


    Mr Hollande has just finished his speech in Tulle. He said: "The 6th of May should be a great date for our country, a new departure for Europe, a new hope for the world."


    Mr Hollande is joined by his smiling partner Valerie Trierweiler on stage in Tulle. An accordionist is playing La Vie En Rose. Roses are the symbol of the Socialist Party, of course.

    The BBC's Chris Morris

    tweets: "'Change starts now,' says #Hollande - but as much emphasis on budget deficit as on growth."

    Candace in Caen, France

    writes: Huge reactions here in France, we are disappointed! It's a shame to see these results, having a new president that has no idea of the responsibility he is facing, he is just going to let our country fall...

    Jon Fuller in London, UK

    writes: I imagine that Boris Johnson will soon be showing a picture of Francois Hollande with a sign saying 'bienvenue a Londres', for all the French entrepreneurs and business leaders who are thinking about leaving France.

    Antoine Courivaud in France

    writes: I heard the news with a great relief tonight. I don't agree with all of the choices made by Hollande, but I definitely don't want to live another five years with the choices made by Sarkozy.


    Another full quote from Mr Hollande's speech in Tulle: "Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option."


    And here is exactly what Mr Hollande said about his rival, Mr Sarkozy: "I address a republican salute to Nicholas Sarkozy who led France for five years and who deserves all of our respect on that account."


    Huge media scrum accompanying Mr Hollande out to his car in Tulle just now.


    Mr Hollande getting into his car, not stopping for reporters' questions.

    The BBC's Katya Adler at Mr Sarkozy's headquarters

    tweets: "The cleaner is here at Sarkozy's election HQ, sweeping up the remnants of bunting, posters and the UMP's presidential dream."


    Here, in full, is what Mr Hollande said about his eurozone growth plans: "This is the mission that is now mine: to give the European project a dimension of growth, employment, prosperity, in short, a future.

    "This is what I will say as soon as possible to our European partners and first of all to Germany, in the name of the friendship that links us and in the name of our shared responsibility."


    Seeing dramatic live video of the motorcade escorting Mr Hollande through the dark on the road to Brive airport. Night's still young in Paris: he still has a rally to address at the Bastille.

    Stephanie Hilar in Paris, France

    writes: I feel very sad for my country. Hollande only wants to spend money without saving any. I don't know if I will receive my pension when I reach 60. Taxes will be higher for everyone.


    This photo shows Hollande supporters waving victory flares in the northern French city of Lille, a Socialist bastion.

    Holland supporters wave flares in Lille, 6 May

    BBC World News, BBC News Channel and BBC World Service are all broadcasting live from France this evening.

    2109: The BBC's James Robbins reports from Francois Hollande's Tulle stronghold:

    "Mr Hollande delayed his departure for Paris and looked more like a pop star than the Mr Normal we had been led to expect."


    France 2 is interviewing Lionel Jospin, the former Socialist prime minister who famously lost to Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round, in 2002. In an inset, the channel is still showing that dramatic motorcade of Mr Hollande's, lighting up the highway on its way to Brive airport.

    Veteran French journalist Jean Quatremer (Liberation)

    tweets: "I'm going to throw up. Can't manage to look at both Jospin and the car at the same time."

    Jeremie in Belgium

    writes: Modest, humble, hope-giving and with real solution - at long last, a president I'm proud to see at the head of France, my country.

    Ali Abunimah

    \u200ftweets: Nice to see Sarkozy humiliated and know his Muslim-bashing didn't work, but don't expect Hollande to be more than French Obama.


    Ed Miliband MP, leader of the British Labour Party, has congratulated Mr Hollande. He said he knew the French Socialist leader was determined to "help create a Europe of growth and jobs, in a way that is responsible and sustainable".

    "In his own campaign, he has shown that the centre-left can offer hope and win elections with a vision of a better, more equal and just world," he added.


    This image shows Mr Hollande kissing his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, after his speech in Tulle. Accordionist on hand to play La Vie En Rose.

    Francois Hollande kisses his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, after speaking in Tulle, central France, 6 May
    2127: The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue in Downing St

    writes: "Downing St sources have told the BBC that David Cameron has just spoken to the new French president. The call was described as 'warm and cordial' and the PM said he looked forward to co-operating with Francois Hollande, particularly in areas like defence and foreign affairs."

    James Wand in Nottingham, UK

    writes: The challenges facing Hollande are great. Gaining back a AAA credit rating and fighting a deficit without really alienating the right and splitting the nation will be hard for a Socialist leader.

    2132: The BBC's Chris Morris

    tweets: "TV screens at Socialist HQ in Paris say 'Everyone to the Bastille now!' - we're heading there now and so is Francois Hollande"


    Media pack trying to get through to Mr Hollande at Brive airport now. "Im' taking the plane," he says, flashing a smile, trying to shake them off.

    Geraldine Pigault, a freelance journalist in Montpellier,

    writes that the atmosphere was tense at the local headquarters of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party.

    UMP supporters booed Socialist figures whenever they appeared on TV. When Mr Sarkozy's defeat was announced, most were silent.

    "Then a young UMP activist said 'shame on France' and the others launched into the Marseillaise," Pigault reports.

    Casset in Nantes, France

    writes: Mr Hollande promised a real change and raised the hopes of the French people. But I think the situation is worse than he expected and soon he'll accept that his proposals are not achievable.

    Montpellier freelance journalist Geraldine Pigault

    adds that there is a party atmosphere in her city.

    "It seems people feel like they have been relieved of a weight today," she says. "It's like the average French person also has a right to exist."


    Seeing Mr Hollande boarding his jet at Brive airport now. Is due to fly to Paris for the Socialist rally on Place de la Bastille.

    Tsipora Peretz in London

    writes: "I'm extremely disappointed... I think France is losing tonight and is opening a big door for the extreme right in the next five years."


    German Chancellor Angela Merkel has phoned Mr Hollande to congratulate him and invite him to Berlin (AFP).


    This image from earlier this evening shows Carla Bruni shielding her face during the speech her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, gave to accept defeat.

    Carla Bruni shields her face during the speech by her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris, 6 May

    Mr Hollande's campaign manager, Pierre Moscovici, says the incoming president will take up Chancellor Merkel's invitation to visit Germany "quickly after his inauguration".


    During the electoral campaign, Mr Hollande was famously cold-shouldered by centre-right EU leaders, who counted on Mr Sarkozy's re-election.

    One leader who did publicly back Mr Hollande was fellow Socialist Elio di Rupo, the prime minister of Belgium.

    He sent "warm congratulations" to his "friend Francois" this evening, tweeting in both French and Dutch.


    This is an image of Hollande supporters gathering at the column on the Place de La Bastille in Paris this evening.

    The square is hugely symbolic for the left in France, commemorating as it does the storming of the Bastille prison during the Revolution in 1789.

    Hollande supporters on the Place de la Bastille in Paris, 6 May
    Francois Guguen in Divonne les Bains, France

    writes: "I doubt the French people really wanted Hollande but Sarkozy's image deficit was too big to overcome... Hollande has won a battle but he hasn't won the war."


    A month before parliamentary elections, far right leader Marine Le Pen has said her National Front must redouble its efforts with Mr Hollande in power.

    "The big and crucial decisions - to return France on the path of greatness and prosperity - will not be taken," she said in Nanterre, outside Paris.

    She predicted Mr Hollande would "fast disappoint, first his own camp and then France".

    Teresa in Hemar Neuvireuil, France

    writes: I have a real hope that fiscal fairness, social justice and equal opportunities will now start to prevail. It is time for a change.

    2224: The BBC's Christian Fraser at the Socialist party headquarters in Paris

    writes: "In over 30 years in politics Mr Hollande has never served as a minister.

    "For much of his tenure as the party's first secretary from 1997 to 2008 he was seen as a consensus manager, a listener more than a visionary.

    "Now he must lead, taking tough choices to put France on the path to recovery."


    This image is the front page of Le Figaro, the centre-right French daily, for Monday: "Francois Hollande president".

    Front page of Le Figaro for 7 May

    This image has just arrived from freelance journalist Geraldine Pigault in the southern French city of Montpellier.

    It shows people strolling in the city with Socialist party streamers.

    People strolling in Montpellier, 6 May

    An excited crowd has gathered at Le Bourget airport near Paris to greet Mr Hollande when his jet lands. A long night of Socialist celebrations ahead in the capital.


    "He was an impulsive, energetic leader who became the latest of a long line of politicians to be destroyed by the eurozone crisis and by his own flaws." Read our Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, on the election that ended Mr Sarkozy's presidency of France.


    If you have just joined us, Francois Hollande has won the election with about 52% of the vote to 48% for Mr Sarkozy, according to early results.

    Mr Hollande said in his first victory speech, in Tulle, that he wanted his presidency to be judged on what he did to deliver justice and to help the youth of France.

    The defeated candidate wished him luck in a concession speech that even opponents found dignified.


    Socialists across France are celebrating in the streets tonight and Mr Hollande is expected to address the main rally on Place de la Bastille in Paris.


    Mr Hollande has landed at Le Bourget airport and is now on his way into Paris by car, escorted by police motorcyclists.

    Aude E in Montpellier, France

    writes: I have been brought up with socialism. I thought we had a chance to escape it but the majority of the French voters have decided otherwise by preferring the lazy, laid-back and assisted life style.


    Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, has sent his congratulations to Mr Hollande.

    Arnaud Brenac in Toulouse, France

    writes: This is a big change for Europe and I think the most important thing is now the French will be less split. It is a big difference to the hard-right immigration policy of the last government.

    Rachel Melieres-Frost in Wiltshire

    writes: I am absolutely delighted as I am a teacher and a socialist. I thought that president Sarkozy's leaving speech was very good and showed humility.


    Based on 95.63% of the votes cast, Mr Hollande took 51.62% to 48.38% for Mr Sarkozy. So Mr Sarkozy really did cut his challenger's lead in the final days of the election race, when opinion polls were putting six points between them.


    I see Mr Hollande's motorcade has stopped on the road into Paris. No, they are off again.


    Mr Hollande's motorcade expected to reach the Bastille in five minutes maximum, France 2 TV saying.


    Dozens of mopeds are following Mr Hollande's official motorcade.


    At least some of those mopeds probably carrying journalists but, still, nice gesture for the man who famously gets about Paris on a scooter.


    Motorcade just pulled up on Place de la Bastille, like a regular Tour de France peloton.


    Giant screen relaying a rock concert, warming up the crowd on the Parisian square so dear to the French left.


    Is this image - tweeted by social media director Loic Chauveau in Paris - the funniest of the night on French Twitter? It shows someone spooning "Flamby" cream caramel pudding to an image of Nicolas Sarkozy. "Flamby" is one of the unkind nicknames conservatives gave the slightly rotund Mr Hollande.

    An image showing someone offering pudding to an image of Nicolas Sarkozy, 6 May

    Barack Obama has congratulated Mr Hollande and invited him to the White House (AFP).


    Mr Hollande is making his way to the stage at the Bastille, past ranks of cameras.


    It is a long push to the stage for Mr Hollande at the Bastille tonight.


    Mr Obama invited Mr Hollande to the White House later this month, expressing hope the pair would work "closely", White House spokesman Jay Carney said (AFP).

    Mr Obama "indicated that he looks forward to working closely with Mr Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges".


    With 99% of the vote counted, Mr Hollande took 51.7% to 48.3% for Mr Sarkozy - French interior ministry, quoted by Reuters.


    Mr Hollande has thanked the crowd at the Bastille for electing him.


    Mr Hollande says he is a proud successor to the late Francois Mitterrand, elected France's first Socialist president 31 years ago.


    Mr Hollande to Bastille crowd: "I am the president of France's youth."


    "Be proud to be citizens of France," says Mr Hollande, sounding hoarse, his tie crooked, ending his brief speech at the Bastille.


    Full quote from Mr Hollande's speech: "You are a movement which is rising all across Europe."


    Mr Hollande beat Mr Sarkozy by about three and half percentage points - a much narrower margin than the opinions polls had predicted right up to the end of campaigning.


    And that concludes our live coverage of the deciding round of the 2012 French presidential election, when the left returned to power in a humiliating defeat for Nicolas Sarkozy.

    Remember, you can still follow our election news story through the night, and explore our special report on an election to remember.


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