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Monday 19 March 2018

Sarkozy biography unlikely to halt his declining popularity

An unsympathetic portrayal of the French leader focuses on his many foibles, writes Aoife Drew

Why does Nicolas Sarkozy pick on Ireland so much? And why is he so maligned even in his own country? According to biographer Franz-Olivier Giesbert, some of the answers lie in the French leader's personality.

It's the book tout Paris is talking about. In his biography M Le President, political editor Giesbert looks into the psychology of the French president -- as he did in previous works focused on Mitterrand and Chirac. He paints a picture of a person who is odious but endearing, a democratic dictator, a cynical romantic, generous yet spiteful.

Giesbert provides plenty of examples so that the reader can see Sarkozy warts and all. Detail is not spared: he picks out all the faux pas the president has made, from holding his election celebration in a very 'bling' French hotel on the Champs-Elysees, to telling a man in a crowd, "Get lost, lowlife," when he baulked at shaking Sarkozy's hand.

Perhaps one of the most revealing excerpts of the book is where Giesbert recounts when Sarkozy called him back in January 2008, not long after his marriage to Carla Bruni. Giesbert, the then editor of political magazine Le Point, had published an ironic article by writer Patrick Besson, '24 tips to the President ahead of his marriage to Mademoiselle Bruni', a piece which provided all sorts of advice to the newly wedded president. Such as, "Never introduce Carla to your sons . . . or Barack Obama . . . or to any good-looking guy for that matter," and went on to vividly detail Carla's past romances and infidelities.

During the call, Sarkozy, explosive with rage, told Giesbert that one of the first things he would do when he was no longer president would be to "go and break his [Besson's] face". Using vocabulary that Giesbert describes as "fit for the schoolyard", he asked how the editor would feel if his own wife had been described as a 'whore'.

Sarkozy asked for a letter of apology, and when Giesbert refused, he angrily threatened him: "You'll see what I'll do to you, you'll see," and later put pressure on Francois Pinault, the billionaire who owns Le Point, to sack him, but the attempt was in vain.

The tensions between the editor and the "child king" were eased only when Carla Bruni intervened. She put in a call to Giesbert and said, "Nicolas is so in love, you understand. He cannot bear that people write this kind of thing about me."

Giesbert probes Sarkozy's personal life and questions if he was a man on the rebound when he married Carla Bruni. Following his break-up with Cecilia Sarkozy in 2007, Giesbert quotes him as saying, "I devoted too much to ambition. If I had to choose between my career and her coming back, I wouldn't hesitate for a second."

Sarkozy reportedly bombarded Cecilia with text messages and phone calls to try and persuade her to come back, to no avail.

The book is damaging for Sarkozy and will not gain him votes among the female electorate in France. For example, when speaking of his own past infidelity, Sarkozy is reported to have said: "A woman never understands that you love only her, even if you stray elsewhere. But straying isn't being unfaithful. Being unfaithful means abandoning her." Oh, please.

Giesbert goes on to describe Sarkozy's relationship with the Grande Dame of Europe, Angela Merkel. He recounts how Merkel resented Sarkozy's early attempts to butter her up, but the two have now become complicit.

The writer provides an anecdote of the pair's conversations at a European summit. "We are made to get along, Angela," said the French president. "After all, we are the arms and the legs." "No, Nicolas," she responded. "You are the arms and the legs. Me, I'm the bank . . ."

Giesbert also points to Sarkozy's vanity. On his own foreign media coverage, Sarkozy is quoted as saying: "France is back. JFK was nothing compared to this. I'm in the foreign press every day. I'm the man of the year in China and in Spain."

While Giesbert describes at length Sarkozy's foibles, the portrait is not entirely negative. He highlights Sarkozy's almost "inhuman" capacity for hard work and lauds his ability to manage crises.

However, it's unlikely that the book will endear him to the French people, nor the Irish. Sarkozy would really want to step up the positive press engine if he wants to get re-elected next year.

And there is more embarrassment due for him following the announcement last week that a film biography that charts his rise to power and the break-up of his marriage has been selected for the Cannes Film Festival.

La Conquete (The Conquest) will receive its world premiere on May 18 at the festival. It shows him fretting about his height, and using colourful language to describe his enemies as he struggles to cope with the break-up of his marriage to Cecilia.

Sunday Independent

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