Nicolas Sarkozy intends to run to become president of France again in four years' time, his former foreign minister has claimed.
Mr Sarkozy has kept a low profile since his defeat last May to his socialist rival, Francois Hollande, after one five-year term. However, Alain Juppe, one of the French right's most senior figures, predicted he would be back to campaign again in 2017.
Mr Juppe said: "I get the feeling that he [wants to run], even if it's not for me to answer that question in his place.
"Nicolas Sarkozy is here in France, he follows politics with a great deal of attention and from our phone calls I can tell he is extremely vigilant."
The former president has embarked on an international conference career similar to that of Tony Blair, spends more time with his family, is learning English intensively and reportedly nurtures plans to create an "ethical" investment fund, possibly based in London.
Mr Sarkozy's UMP party has been left in disarray by a vicious and inconclusive succession battle and the struggles of the French economy.
Mr Juppe's assertion was dismissed swiftly by some on the right. "So Alain Juppe's the weather lady now?" said Luc Chatel, a former minister. "I think that Alain Juppe is clearly hearing voices," said Patrick Balkany, a close friend.
Mr Sarkozy pledged to become a "Frenchman among Frenchmen" after losing the election last year. Yesterday a spokesman said: "[He] has withdrawn from political life. His state of mind is the same as it was eight months ago."
His wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, dropped a clear hint as to her husband's intentions this week. The singer was quoted as saying: "For my part I have no desire for him to dive back into that world. We are very happy with our new life."
But she added: "Hollande is terrible, and we're going to be stuck with him for the next 10 years. Because in five years, Marine Le Pen [the far-right leader] will be up against him and naturally, he will win."
The outcome could be different if her husband intervened, she claimed. "Nicolas could spare France this awful duel." (© Daily Telegraph, London)