Sarkozy Takes Power, Promises Reforms The new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has taken the reins of power in a ceremony in Paris. Sarkozy, who has promised to usher in a period of deep reforms, was declared the 23rd president of the French republic in a small ceremony after the departure of Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy Takes Power, Promises Reforms

Sarkozy Takes Power, Promises Reforms

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The new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has taken the reins of power in a ceremony in Paris. Sarkozy, who has promised to usher in a period of deep reforms, was declared the 23rd president of the French republic in a small ceremony after the departure of Jacques Chirac.


Unidentified Man #1: (French spoken)


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: After posing for a photo, the outgoing and incoming presidents met alone for half an hour so that Chirac could give Sarkozy the secret codes to France's nuclear arsenal. And then, in a rather anti-climatic ending to his 12-year presidency, Chirac shook hands with Sarkozy, waved to the crowd and got in a car and drove away.


BEARDSLEY: Last night, Chirac gave his final televised presidential address to the French people. He said he was proud of the work they had accomplished together and he urged France to stay united under President Sarkozy.

JACQUES CHIRAC: (Through translator) I am confident in France and I know the new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will guide our country on its future path. I wish him the best in this most difficult and beautiful mission, serving our magnificent nation, France.

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Man #3: (French spoken)


NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Through translator) Today, I think about the mandate with which the French people had entrusted me with great gravita(ph). I know I do not have the right to disappoint them. France must be stronger than ever to face the challenges of a fast-changing world - where falling behind can be fatal.

BEARDSLEY: If the official event was surprisingly lacking in ceremonial pomp. It's still captured the nation's attention. Some commentators compared it to the Cannes Film Festival when Sarkozy's wife, Cecilla, strode up the red carpet with the couple's five children, including her two daughters and his two sons, a sort of tall, blond, Brady Bunch clan that kept the French paparazzi clicking away.


BEARDSLEY: Political commentator Nicole Bacharan says now there's no doubt, Cecilla Sarkozy will become France's first lady.

NICOLE BACHARAN: Today, her entrance with the four children and a couple they had from previous marriages and the little boys they had together was quite a statement about a change of generation. It was a very new thing, and there's, you know, a lot of electricity in the Sarkozy couple.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy Promises Change

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy shares a laugh with outgoing President Jacques Chirac on May 10 in Paris. Jean Ayissi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Jean Ayissi/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Sarkozy became the new president of France on May 16, when he took over for Jacques Chirac.

Although he is a conservative, Sarkozy offers French citizens the option of radical change. Sarkozy, who is pro-American, has said France needs to get back to work to solve its economic woes. The 52-year-old is head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party.

Sarkozy came to power the hard way, said his biographer Catherine Nay. He gave his first political speech at the age of 20. The long-haired, bell-bottomed youth leader of his party was allotted two minutes for the speech. He took 10, impressing party chairman and Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac.

And while he had his sights set on the French presidency from that moment, he worked his way up the ladder over 32 years by first sweeping floors and putting up posters. Most politicians in France attend an elite political school, later joining a minister's staff, Nay said.

At the age of 28, Sarkozy beat a seasoned politician in an affluent Paris suburb to become the youngest mayor in France. The young, energetic lawyer was later elected to Congress and became a nationally known figure and a regular face on the political talk-show circuit.

Although Sarkozy and President Jacques Chirac had a difficult relationship, Chirac was forced to bring Sarkozy into his cabinet as interior minister in 2002. Since then, Sarkozy has been unstoppable, dominating the media and often stealing the spotlight from the president.

In 2005, riots broke out in poor, immigrant suburbs across the country. Sarkozy took a tough line, referring to young troublemakers as scum.

But Jose Freche, a writer and personal friend of Sarkozy, says his public image is quite different from the real man.

"Personally, he's a very nice guy and also very funny," Freche said. "When he decides something, he goes until the objective. Very tough. But also he's somebody who likes to discuss with people and to listen to other people."

Sarkozy was born in Paris in 1955, the son of a minor Hungarian aristocrat who fled communism after World War II. His mother was the daughter of a Jewish émigré from Greece. Sarkozy's father left the family when he was 5, an event Nay said deeply scarred him.

"He feels things deeply and, in some ways, has hungered for success to prove that he is no longer an outsider," Nay said.

Sarkozy won a run-off election May 6 by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent in a battle with socialist Segolene Royal. Twelve candidates were on the ballot for the initial round of voting April 22.

Sarkozy won the election on a platform of economic and social reform.

Sarkozy promised to put people back to work and to jump-start the French economy, Europe's third-largest. He also said he'll sweep away what he calls the values of the 1968 student revolution that he says have degraded France.

"The French people have expressed themselves, and they chose to break with the ideas, habits and behaviors of the past," Sarkozy said. "I will rehabilitate work, authority, morals, respect and merit. I will put the nation and national identity first and give the French people a reason to be proud."

Sarkozy's supporters say he is the only man with the courage and stamina to reform France. But many see Sarkozy as an authoritarian and divisive figure who could aggravate the country's social divide.

Reported by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in France.