Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy
Admirers see in Nicolas Sarkozy a dynamic and decisive politician, but he became France's first president not to be re-elected for a second term since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981.
Never afraid of controversy, the veteran conservative politician angered human rights activists with his immigration policies and upset traditionalists with his flamboyant private life.
In the final days of his presidency, his description of himself as "the captain of a boat in the heart of a storm" seemed to sit badly with a surge in jobless claims to their highest level in 12 years.
Yet he had been at the forefront of the European response to the global economic crisis in 2008 and helped establish the G20 summits involving the world's biggest economies.
He also saw through unpopular, but arguably necessary, reforms: raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, relaxing the 35-hour working week, overhauling the universities and altering the tax system to encourage overtime and home ownership.
The question is: will French conservatives allow him a second shot at the presidency in 2017 if that is what he wants?Political fighter
It was as a highly combative interior minister and leader of the ruling UMP that Mr Sarkozy made his name in national politics.
He sharply divided opinion in France, not least by adopting a tough stance on immigration.
He notoriously talked of hosing down troubled housing estates, describing 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 the then far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
As president he pushed through measures to curb illegal immigration - including highly controversial mass deportations of Roma (Gypsies).
At the same time, he advocated positive discrimination to help reduce youth unemployment - a challenge to those wedded to the French idea of equality.
On the international stage, Mr Sarkozy was often described as an Atlanticist, though he opposed the war in Iraq.
In March 2011, France was first to send warplanes into action against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya, spearheading the foreign intervention that enabled the Libyan rebels to succeed.
He is credited with brokering an end to the August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, and his performance while holding the six-month EU rotating presidency is remembered as assertive.
In response to the global financial crisis of 2008, he vowed to punish speculators and advocated a strong state role in the economy.
Leading the European Union response, he developed a close working relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.Immigrant roots
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.
He began his political career as mayor of the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly from 1983 to 2002.
National attention came in 1993, when he personally intervened to free infants held hostage by a deranged man in a kindergarten, who was later killed by police commandos.
Initially a protege of Jacques Chirac, he became the right-hand man of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur in 1993-95, serving as budget minister.
When he backed Mr Balladur for the presidency in 1995, the decision caused a lasting rift with Mr Chirac, the successful candidate.
Mr Chirac famously chided him in his memoirs for being "irritable, rash, overconfident and allowing for no doubt, least of all regarding himself".Life with Carla
Mr Sarkozy, who is twice divorced, has a daughter with his current wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni, as well as a son from his second marriage and two sons from his first marriage.
Revealing a personal side in a pre-election interview, Mr Sarkozy said: "Divorce is painful. It is a rupture. And often it is the children who pay the bill."
His romance with Carla Bruni grabbed the headlines when he became president in 2007. For a time the media appeared more interested in his love life than the issues facing the country.
Such publicity was a departure from the French tradition of presidential privacy.
Yet when Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy gave birth to baby Giulia the pregnancy was kept well away from the media glare, in an apparent return to the traditional, monarchical style of the French presidency.
Despite his achievements in office, Mr Sarkozy suffered painfully low popularity ratings.Next steps
Theoretically he could stand for the UMP again in 2017, and one opinion poll suggests two-thirds of conservative voters would support his return.
However, Mr Cope has in the past entertained ambitions for the Elysee Palace of his own.
One potential obstacle for Mr Sarkozy is the ongoing police investigation into allegations he accepted illegal donations from France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, during the 2007 election campaign. Mr Sarkozy denies all wrongdoing.
Since his painful defeat in May, he has gradually returned to the international stage, visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, for instance.
However, he has given little indication of where he sees himself in five years.