Fed up with austerity, France turns to the left

France elects new leader amid economic crisis
France, the world's fifth largest economy, has chosen to make a major change during a critical time, electing their first socialist leader in 17 years while ousting conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off election. Mark Phillips reports.

(CBS News) PARIS - A political earthquake in Europe has the potential to shake up the economy there, and in the United States.

French voters Sunday elected a socialist president for the first time since the 1980s.

Francois Hollande unseated the conservative incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.

It's a clear sign that voters are unhappy with efforts to boost Europe's economy by cutting government spending.

Hollande came back to Paris from his base in central France late Sunday night to celebrate with his supporters. They had been waiting for him at the Bastille, where the French Revolution began two centuries ago.

Hollande got elected by promising a new - admittedly less dramatic - revolution: that, instead of the austerity and budget cuts France and Europe are now enduring, the way out of the financial mess lies in more government spending, more government jobs.

Who is Francois Hollande

Sunday night, he thanked his supporters for electing only the second socialist president in France in more than 50 years.

But his election will be viewed with less enthusiasm in Germany, which has been the driving force for stern budgetary controls along with France -- until now.

Sarkozy, the outgoing president, was gracious in conceding defeat, saying he took responsibility and telling his supporters the people had spoken.

They were a tough crowd to convince, booing even as he said that.

This being France, there's a bit of a soap opera surrounding Hollande, as well.

He left his partner of 30 years, the last Socialist candidate for president, Segolene Royal, for a reporter he met in an interview, Valerie Trierweiler.

She says she hasn't thought about what it will be like to be France's new first lady.

And Hollande wouldn't have won at all if the frontrunner for his party's nomination, Dominique Straus Kahn, hadn't had his fateful encounter with a New York City hotel maid, leading to the sex scandal that ended his political career.

To see the Mark Phillips report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Mark Phillips, CBS News London correspondent
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent based in London.