Nicolas Sarkozy a danger to France, warns rival
President Nicolas Sarkozy is dangerous for France, warned Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, as the bitter Right-wing rivals competed for Charles de Gaulle's mantle on the 40th anniversary of his death.
With De Gaulle nostalgia in full swing in France, President Sarkozy yesterday seized the commemoration to liken himself to the revered wartime leader who refused to collaborate with the Nazis and was the architect of the country's post-War recovery.
In a thinly-veiled reference to his deeply unpopular pension reforms, which brought millions to the streets in the past few weeks, the President quoted De Gaulle's phrase: "If France has called me to serve as its guide, it is certainly not to preside over its sleep."
But Mr de Villepin, a staunch Gaullist who famously opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, was the most vocal in denying the president's right to claim such a heritage.
Far from being a visionary, he said, the President was "among the principle problems (France) must resolve".
"This political parenthesis that we have been living through since 2007 must come to a close. The results aren't there, our country is weakened, we are divided, our principles are suffering," said the man who hopes to replace Mr Sarkozy in 2012.
Unlike the general, he said, Mr Sarkozy did not respect his ideas of "surpassing (oneself), rallying the French".
In response to this broadside, the President reportedly told his troops: "Don't bother about (de Villepin), he's gone mad."
"He's completely isolated, madness is never pretty," he told aides, warning them to avoid at all costs turning Mr de Villepin into a "martyr".
With a poll out this week suggesting that De Gaulle was by far the greatest French leader in modern times, politicians across the board have been squabbling to claim a piece of his heritage.
Mr Sarkozy's decision to sign a far-reaching defence treaty last week with Britain, paving the way for the shared use of aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons testing, was cited as the most damning proof of Mr Sarkozy's lack of Gaullist spirit.
According to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a Right-wing Eurosceptic, the deal would have the general turning in his grave.