Story Highlights• Nicolas Sarkozy officially inaugurated as France's new president
• Conservative replaces rival and former mentor Jacques Chirac
• Sarkozy has pledged a new era of change, promised to reunite France
• New president expected to appoint opposition members to his cabinet
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, reached out to his political opponents in his inaugural speech, pledging to reunite the country as he was formally sworn in Wednesday in an elaborate ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
The conservative, elected on a platform of economic reform and tough policies on crime and immigration, replaces his rival and former mentor, outgoing leader Jacques Chirac who is stepping down after 12 years in power. (Watch Sarkozy celebrate election victory .)
In his inauguration address, Sarkozy recounted the legacies of French leaders before him and said as president he would use the mandate the French people had given him to push forward progress in their name. (Full story)
"At this, so solemn a time, I think above all of the French people," he said.
Sarkozy said there has never been "such a need" for reforms in France and laid out a long list of domestic development initiatives and said he would be a strong proponent in the international effort to curb climate change.
"Never has opposition to change been so dangerous for France," Sarkozy said, adding that there is a need to "unite the French" and "rehabilitate the values of work, effort, merit and respect."
"For me the service of France is a duty," he added.
CNN's Senior European Correspondent Jim Bittermann said the new president also appealed to his opponents in an effort to bolster support for his presidency in the face of upcoming general elections.
Sarkozy said he was not asking rivals to give up their beliefs but that individuals would have to make up their own minds about how best to serve their country.
Sarkozy took the opportunity to meet and greet prominent members of the community including political, religious and civil society leaders. Bittermann said many of the people attending the ceremony wore "opposite political stripes," representing Sarkozy's desire to form a broad base of support for his reforms.
Arriving a few minutes early, Sarkozy received his first military salute as president and made the long walk up Elysee Palace yard.
Chirac, who gave his final address as president a day earlier, greeted his replacement on the red carpet. (Chirac urges unity in farewell speech.)
After meeting privately for approximately 30 minutes, the two emerged in the yard where Sarkozy walked Chirac to his car and said goodbye. Chirac left the Elysee Palace, expected to travel to his temporary Paris apartment across from the Louvre Museum.
Stylistically different from his predecessor, Sarkozy is expected to catalyze the country with swift reforms and his cabinet of ministers is expected to represent a radical departure from the Chirac era.
Bittermann said the ceremony was indicative of what to expect from Sarkozy. The new president was sworn in and began delivering his inaugural address before the completion of a traditional 21-gun salute. Bittermann said only eight shots had been fired by the time Sarkozy began speaking.
France's new leader began gearing up for presidential duties even before taking office, meeting with leaders of the Socialist party as well as union leaders to organize his cabinet and lay out his vision for France's future. (Sarkozy's pledge for his first 100 days in office.)
Jonathan Fenby, author of "France on the Brink," told CNN that Sarkozy is energetic but can also be overzealous and impatient. He added that if anyone could get France back on track, it is Sarkozy.
The ambitious and politically-young 52-year-old has been keen to distance himself from Chirac, whose policies in recent years have been seen as a cause of the economic stagnation and high unemployment that has plagued the country.
Fenby said the French people were glad to "see the back of Chirac" and that Sarkozy's proposals are an attempt to strike a balance between old and new.
While he is appealing to traditional values of morality, hard work and law and order, Sarkozy is trying to reconcile those things with progress and change in an effort to convince the country his reforms are the way forward.
"I think he's got a very good chance, so long as he reigns in his more energetic extreme impulses," Fenby said.
Seen as a bustling modernizer, Sarkozy is expected to bolster France's role in global affairs as well as improve economic conditions. (Watch analysis on what could be next for France .)
He has already laid out plans to form new ministries of economic strategy and employment, sustainable development as well as immigration and national identity.
While many are cautious of his reforms, criticizing them as potentially brutal and xenophobic, Sarkozy has embarked on an apparent census-building charm offensive in recent days to pave the way for coming change.
Bittermann said Sarkozy has been making inroads with potential rivals in an effort to help ease his way in to the kind of reforms he put forward during his campaign. He added that Sarkozy would have to work to insure he made reforms in a way that didn't lead to "confrontations in the street."
Sarkozy is expected to fly to Germany following the ceremony to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, wasting no time in building a relationship with the European neighbor.
In his victory speech, Sarkozy also reached out to the U.S., whose relationship with France has been frosty over the Iraq War.
CNN's Zein Basravi contributed to this report.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Outgoing French President Jacques Chirac, left, welcomes Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace.