Nicolas Sarkozy: France's 'hyper-president'
In our double-feature, Carole Landry profiles Nicolas Sarkozy, France's 'hyper-president'... while Paul Ricard traces the route of the new first lady from catwalk to Elysee
Nine months after winning the presidency on a promise to reform France, Nicolas Sarkozy ushered in major change in his personal life by marrying supermodel-cum-singer Carla Bruni.
Dubbed the "hyper-president" for his whirlwind style of governing, Sarkozy
had recently earned another label from the French press -- "the bling-bling
president" -- for parading his glitzy romance with Bruni in public.
His third marriage comes just three months after his divorce from Cecilia
Ciganer-Albaniz, a former model and PR executive who had over their 11 years
of marriage served as one of his closest advisers.
Cracks in the marriage appeared during the election campaign when Cecilia failed to turn out to vote in the second round while she made no secret of her dislike for the Elysee and its ceremonial trappings.
When the divorce was announced on October 18, Sarkozy was gearing up for
one of his biggest reform tests: confronting union strikes over his plan to
scrap pension privileges for some public sector employees.
"It was not the happiest time in my life," Sarkozy, 53, commented at a news
conference earlier this month about this divorce.
But the president went on to announce that his relationship with
40-year-old Bruni was serious and all but confirmed that he planned to marry
the former Italian model who turned to a career in music five years ago.
Born to a Hungarian immigrant father and the grandson of a Greek Jew on his
mother's side, Sarkozy grew up in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly where he
began his political career at the age of 22 as a city councillor.
His father, a Hungarian aristocrat who fled communism, left the family of
three boys during Sarkozy's early childhood years. Sarkozy rarely saw him and
grew up mostly in the care of his maternal grandparents.
After attending Catholic school, he studied law and took part in rightwing
student politics before joining President Jacques Chirac's party and winning a
seat in parliament.
A strong public speaker, Sarkozy got his first big break in politics when
he was elected mayor of Neuilly at the age of 28, becoming France's youngest
It was in Neuilly that he shot to prominence when he helped negotiate the
release of schoolchildren who had been taken hostage in 1993 by a deranged man who called himself The Human Bomb.
For years a protege of Chirac, Sarkozy fell out with him after he backed
rival Edouard Balladur for the presidency in 1995 and later openly campaigned
to dethrone Chirac.
In a best-selling biography, journalist Catherine Nay portrayed Sarkozy as
a outsider who fought his way tooth and nail to the top, consumed by ambition
and eager to get to work on reforming France.
Sarkozy's reputation as a blunt-talker was established during his two stints as interior minister, when he moved to tighten laws on illegal
immigration and vowed to get tough with delinquents in the poor suburbs.
"I was the most talked-about interior minister. Now I'm the most
talked-about president. What can I do about that?" Sarkozy quipped recently.
He has made "breaking with the past" the catch-phrase of his election
campaign and of his presidency, promising American-style transparency and a
results-driven approach to politics.
After handily defeating Socialist rival Segolene Royal in the presidential
race, he pushed through tax cuts, moved to curb the 35-hour work week by
allowing tax-free overtime and sat down with unions to negotiate labour market
But it was the change in presidential style that caused the most hubbub.
An avid long-distance runner, Sarkozy was often photographed out on a
neighborhood jog, sporting aviator sunglasses and a New York Police Department
Whether he is vacationing on the yacht of billionaire friend Vincent
Bollore or flying aboard his private plane to Egypt, Sarkozy is unapologetic
about his friendships with the wealthy, showing he is comfortable with money
Under his leadership, France has warmed up to the United States and raised
its profile in Europe.
For months, opinion polls showed Sarkozy's style was striking a chord with
the French, but a recent slump in his popularity rating has led analysts to
suggest that the French are growing impatient and want their economic concerns
to be addressed head-on.
Sarkozy has a 10-year-old son, Louis, from his marriage to Cecilia and two
sons, Pierre, 22, and Jean, 21, from his first marriage to Marie-Dominique
AFP February 2008