Nicolas Sarkozy, France's incumbent president, reacts after his defeat for re-election in the second round vote of the 2012 French presidential elections at the Mutualite meeting hall in Paris
Nicolas Sarkozy, France's incumbent president, speaks at the Mutualite meeting hall in Paris on Sunday after he failed to win re-election in the second round of voting in the country's presidential election. Reuters

Nicolas Sarkozy delivered a concession speech Sunday night, following his loss to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in France’s presidential election.

According to unofficial results, the challenger Hollande, the first Socialist to lead the country in 17 years, gained 51.9 percent of the vote, compared with 48.1 percent for the incumbent Sarkozy, who turned out to be a one-term president

I bear the full responsibility for this defeat, Sarkozy said, adding that he called his rival to congratulate him and bestow his good wishes.

I have fought for values of responsibility, and I am not a man who does not take up his responsibility. I was the chief. Never, my dear compatriots, will I be able to return and give you back all that you have given me. I gave you my all. … Our country is much greater than we are, Sarkozy said at his party’s headquarters at the Mutualite building in Paris.

Sarkozy also asserted his love for his country.

I will never be like those who have beaten us, Sarkozy said. From the bottom of my heart, I want France to succeed with the challenges it faces. It is something much greater than us, France. This evening we must think exclusively of France. Never will I forget this honor. In the life of a man presiding over the destiny of France, it is something I never will be able to forget.

He added: I have dedicated all my energy from the beginning. I tried to do my best to protect French people. I have committed myself wholly and fully, but I have not succeeded. I have not succeeded in convincing a majority of French people. Think of France. Think of French people.

Sarkozy also praised his voters and urged them to support Hollande when he takes over. You could not have given me a better present, a better picture of France,” he said.

“So let us have a happy France, that does not bear any hatred, a France [that] does not give up, an open France, a France that does not consider his opponent as an enemy. ... A France that knows that life is made of success and defeat. You are the eternal France. I love you; thank you.

Sarkozy is now the 11th leader in the euro zone to be removed from power since the sovereign-debt crisis erupted in 2009. The brash and energetic Sarkozy was despised by many in France for his support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence upon strict austerity measures across the continent.

French voters likely turned Sarkozy away in part because of 10 percent unemployment and a downgrade of the country’s credit rating by international agencies.

In contrast, Hollande plans to raise taxes on big corporations and millionaires, hire 60,000 new teachers, lower the retirement age to 60 from 62, hike the minimum wage, and retract a recent sales-tax increase.

Bickering has erupted among senior officials of Sarkozy's losing UMP party.

David-Xavier Weiss, the UMP national secretary in charge of press and media, branded the strategy implemented by Sarkozy’s principal campaign adviser Patrick Buisson a “total failure.”

Meanwhile, thousands of jubilant Hollande supporters are celebrating the victory in his hometown of Tulle in central France, at the Socialist Party headquarters in Paris, and at the Place de la Bastille in Paris.