France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy casts himself as a moderniser, championing a clean break with the country's traditional ruling elite.
President Sarkozy says he has a duty to bring about change
He has a powerful mandate from the French people to push through reforms, after a huge turnout in the election which saw him triumph over Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.
As a highly combative interior minister and leader of the ruling UMP he sharply divided opinion in France - not least by adopting a tough stance on immigration.
He famously described young delinquents in the Paris suburbs as racaille, or "rabble".
That blunt comment - made before the 2005 riots - encouraged some critics to put him in the same category as far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Mr Sarkozy, 52, pushed through measures to curb illegal immigration - including deportations - and to integrate skilled migrants into French society.
Mr Sarkozy is a gift to cartoonists
But he has also advocated positive discrimination to help reduce youth unemployment - a challenge to those wedded to the French idea of equality. His call for state help for Muslims to build mosques was also controversial.
Correspondents say that one of the big questions now is whether he will be able to temper his abrasive style to play the traditional unifying role of the president of France.
Unlike most of the French ruling class, Mr Sarkozy did not go to the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, but trained as a lawyer.
The son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother of Greek Jewish origin, he was baptised a Roman Catholic and grew up in Paris.
One of his main political influences is not French but British, according to his other biographer, Nicolas Domenach.
"He admires Tony Blair hugely - for many reasons," he says.
"Tony Blair was able to seduce the media, in the way Sarkozy does. And Sarkozy looks at how Tony Blair was able to sell his political ideology."
Mr Sarkozy has called for "a rupture with a certain style of politics", saying he wants to encourage social mobility, better schools and cuts in public sector staff.
Rise through the ranks
He served as mayor of the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly from 1983 to 2002, then became interior minister. He also had a brief spell as finance minister in 2004.
President Chirac famously fell out with Mr Sarkozy
She says his appeal is simple.
"He was a lawyer, so he seems close to the people, and he wants to show them that he understands their problems and that he will solve their problems."
It seems that rather than a new ideology, he is a pragmatist who will use any solution as long as it works, the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says.
Initially a protege of President Chirac, the two fell out dramatically when Mr Sarkozy backed a Chirac rival for the presidency in 1995 - a slight that has never been forgotten.
Even those on the left in France admit Mr Sarkozy is a formidable political force.
He has shown strong protectionist instincts - pouring state funds into saving the ailing French company Alstom. Yet he also promises to make the French less scared of economic success.
He is often described as an Atlanticist, but he too was against the war in Iraq. He is not too keen on the old Franco-German alliance - but upset new EU members by saying those with lower taxes than old Europe should not receive EU subsidies.
He has voiced opposition to Turkey's bid to join the EU.
Twice married, Mr Sarkozy has three children - the third by his current wife Cecilia.