Roger Yves Bost thwarted Briton Ben Maher's bid to become only the ninth rider to win team and individual gold at the same European Championships.
Maher went into the final day leading with no faults but had one fence down in the first of Saturday's two rounds, while Bost had only one time fault.
Maher jumped clear in the final round but so did Bost to take the title.
The Frenchman ended with 1.58 faults overall, with Maher on four faults and Scott Brash third with 6.72 faults.
Olympic champion Steve Guerdat of Switzerland was eighth in Herning, Denmark.
The final took into account rounds from earlier in the week -
when Great Britain won the team title
- and Maher began Saturday's final two rounds with an unblemished record.
That came to an end when he clipped a fence in the first round of the day but his clear round on Cella in his second ride put the pressure firmly on Bost in the very last ride of the competition.
The 48-year-old knew that if he had a fence down it would hand Maher the title but the Frenchman kept his composure superbly on Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois.
Guerdat had gone clear in the first round on Saturday but his horse Nino des Buissonnets refused in the latter stages of round two.
World number one Christian Ahlman began the day in 11th place but the German failed to improve, knocking down two fences and having a time fault in the first round before knocking down another fence and picking up another time fault in the second, to leave him in 12th.
Britain's Michael Whitaker, younger brother of John Whitaker, the last Briton to win the title in 1989, began the final in 18th and recorded a clear first round, with only one time fault, to move up to ninth.
His second round featured one fence down and one time fault and his final score of 16.46 kept him in ninth place.