French election 2012: Francois Hollande

A profile of the new French president and long-time Socialist politician

Francois HollandeAP Photo, Christophe Ena

You may have heard how inexperienced Francois Hollande is. But that claim has come mainly from his fellow 57-year-old, the now ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande grew up in a Catholic family in Normandy, the son of a social worker and doctor. His father was said to be a staunch conservative, which may explain why Hollande took a different route. He certainly didn't lack confidence at a young age, telling his mother that he would be president one day.

His father moved the family to the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly when Hollande was a teenager. He completed his studies at the prestigious Ecole Nationale d'Administration, where he met Segolene Royal, who became his partner for 30 years. Royal also became a prominent Socialist, but Hollande has already gone one step further: Royal lost to Sarkozy in the presidential elections of 2007.

Hollande became a councillor in the Court of Audit after his studies, and then joined the Socialist party in 1979. He had a junior role as an economic adviser to Francois Mitterande: Socialist president of France from 1981 to 1995.

In more recent times, Hollande served as Mayor of Tulle, and from 1997 to 2008 was First Secretary of the Socialist Party. Sarkozy was fond of pointing out Hollande's lack of experience at a national level, but in pure political terms dealing with the infighting in that party will surely have put him in good stead for the top job.

He seems satisfied with the image of himself as "President Normal", happy to contrast himself with the infamous "Bling Presidency" of Sarkozy. Certainly he appears to be clean cut, which his supporters say is exactly what the French people need in these austere times.

His most eye-catching proposed policy is a 75% tax for those earning over a million euro. This will be of great interest to political observers in Britain, mindful of the controversial tax cut for the highest earners from 50% to 45% George Osborne's recent Budget.

Hollande wants 60,000 new teachers, and to bring the official retirement age back down to 60 from 62. He has also vowed to renegotiate the EU's fiscal growth pact that was signed by Sarkozy.

Jacques Chirac has described him as a "true statesman", but cynics will say his apparent support for the Socialist candidate is more to do with a longstanding sense of rancour between the former president and Sarkozy.

It will certainly be fascinating to see whether Hollande's victory will lead a resurgence of the left in European politics. Both Britain and Germany currently have right-wing leaders, with German chancellor Angela Merkel voicing her support for Sarkozy. David Cameron was also hoping for Nicolas Sarkozy to win again.

"Monsieur Ordinary" seems modest, and is clearly not grand. The French are often seen as flamboyant people, but like anybody else they know when the time is right for something a little more restrained.

Hollande is also seen as something of a good guy. Indeed, he once said in a magazine interview that he preferred being nice "because in the films, the bad guys always lose".

A majority of French voters will feel his victory in the presidential election vindicates such sentiments.