31 years: a lifetime. I remember the election of François Mitterrand. I was a lot younger then and a lot less lucid about the challenges that face a newly elected president. For me it was an exciting moment in May 1981, the first and until today the only right-left alternance in the history of the Fifth Republic. The enthusiasm was great, and in my naiveté I thought that enthusiasm could accomplish a great deal.
This time, there is far much less enthusiasm about the victory, but the challenges are even greater than they were in 1981. Europe is facing an unprecedented crisis, and the newly elected president will be at the mercy of events. He will have to contend with other heads of state who do not share his vision of the world. And he will be tested, immediately by the markets, eventually by the unions and others who expect changes that he never promised and cannot deliver.
As for Sarkozy, his departure speech, which he is delivering as I write, is dignified and correct. I never shared the visceral hatred that many in France felt toward him, and I am glad that his manner of leaving office suggests that the pugnacious character he often chose to portray is not, as I always believed, the only Sarkozy but rather a persona that he believed, rightly or wrongly, to be politically effective.