Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy took over the leadership of France's ruling party, giving him a platform to launch a presidential campaign in 2007 and setting up what is likely to be two years of intense political combat with incumbent Jacques Chirac.
Chirac, who turns 72 today, has hinted that he may run for a third term, but Sarkozy, 49, has spoken out about the need for younger leaders to take charge and implement economic and social reforms. Chirac had tried to block Sarkozy's ascent to the helm of the Union for a Popular Movement.
Sarkozy was named the party's leader at an American-style convention filled with French flags, music and speakers, and a giant video screen. His election to the party post requires him to resign as finance minister.