Friday 24 November 2017

Life in old dog Sarko, despite troubles

His opponents are keen to take advantage of the French leader's frequent mishaps, writes Aoife Drew

'I had my first sexual experience with my nanny at age 11," revealed Nicolas Sarkozy's 81 year-old dad recently, much to his son's mortification. Just when Sarko thought things could not get any worse, his trusty father published his memoir So Much Life. In so doing, he exposed even more skeletons in the family closet, waxing lyrical about the times he "found peace with my body, my desire briefly appeased" while canoodling with the nanny. Or how he used to like "allowing his weariness slide onto the body of women".

Beurk as les Français would say. A Dub living in Paris, I completely agree. Although I love a gossip fix, the Sarkozys are bringing the expression "too much information" to a new all-time low and are getting a serious slagging from the media.

Could the French president be any more disliked right now? Last month, a national survey revealed he has sunk to record levels of public dissatisfaction, with only 31 per cent indicating approval of his performance. He's almost as unpopular as Brian Cowen.

Why? When running for president, he promised us (me included, as a French tax payer) the world, notably, to increase purchasing power and to bring his own brand of capitalism to the working and middle classes.

However, with unemployment at over 10 per cent, the national debt mounting and nobody getting any richer, people feel let down.

Sound familiar? Just like in Ireland, France is troubled by a variety of economic and social issues. In addition to these, Sarkozy has been faced with many of his own personal difficulties, which have added to the reasons behind his drastic fall in popularity.

His family have not helped matters. Late last year, he was accused of blatant nepotism when his 23-year-old son, Jean, a second-year law student, made a bid for the top job heading up Epad, development agency for La Défense, the business district of Paris.

Given the fact that Jean had no noteworthy credentials whatsoever, the attempt was thankfully met with public outrage and he was forced to give up the position. I'm all for age equality, but most students find it hard enough to find unpaid internships in Paris these days.

Another hurdle came in the form of rumours that both Carla and Nicolas were having extra-marital affairs, she with musician Benjamin Biolay and himself with Ecology Minister Chantal Jouanno.

All have denied the claims and Biolay is now suing the French TV station France 24 for having assisted in propagating the story.

Whether it's true or not, there have been numerous political side-effects: Rachida Dati, the ex-justice minister, has had her bodyguards and official car confiscated. Some say this is a cost-cutting measure because she is no longer minister.

However, others have suggested it was the consequence of a police inquiry which named Dati as the source of the malicious whispers concerning the Sarkozys' alleged marital crisis.

She's not the only one in hot water. Sarkozy is also punishing those in his inner circle who have caused him related chagrin.

According to French broadsheet Le Figaro, Pierre Charon, one of Sarko's advisers and an important spin-doctor, has been banished from cabinet meetings after publicly suggesting the scandal was a 'foreign plot' intended to bring the president into disrepute before France takes over the G20 presidency.

A little paranoid? In any case, Charon embarrassed his boss and damaged his own political career.

So it's all fun and games at the Elysee Palace. Given the tough economy, cracks in his marriage, his classy dad and a long list of other problems, Sarkozy has his hands full.

Carla is starting to show the strain. Recent photos have shown her looking gaunt, Botoxed and wearing too much make-up to cover up the side-effects of sleepless nights. Life is not as carefree as it used to be for the glamorous first lady, and the paparazzi are ever present in order to take as many unflattering photos as possible.

What with Sarkozy's current unpopularity, it would seem that our Taoiseach and Monsieur Le President have a lot in common these days. It's going to take miracles to extricate themselves from the fine mess they are in.

Perhaps they could form a Franco-Irish support group, or at least split the cost of some good spin doctors capable of providing just a little bit of good publicity.

The question on everyone's lips right now is: what are Sarkozy's chances of getting in for a second presidential term in 2012?

Well, François Fillon, the French prime minister, is ahead of him in the polls at present. The left is also gathering momentum, benefiting from Sarkozy's recent mishaps, so the competition is getting stronger.

However, his supporters say there is life in the old dog yet. So Much Life, just like his old man.

Sunday Independent

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