Nicolas Sarkozy wants 'clean break' for France

21st March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 21, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-talking right-wing frontrunner for the French presidency, casts himself as a moderniser and the natural candidate to lead France into a "clean break" with a discredited past.

PARIS, March 21, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-talking right-wing frontrunner for the French presidency, casts himself as a moderniser and the natural candidate to lead France into a "clean break" with a discredited past.

The 52-year-old son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother of Greek Jewish origin, he has served as interior minister twice, as finance minister and, since 2004, president of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

Polls show that "Sarko", as he is known, has a popular touch -- many voters respond well to his plain-talking style -- but they also expose his biggest weakness: more than other mainstream politicians he has polarised the public. People either love him or hate him.

Sarkozy set up the country's first official Islamic body and argues for US-style positive discrimination to favour disadvantaged immigrants, but he is reviled on the political left and in France's poor immigrant suburbs for his hard line on law and order and immigration.

Much-reported remarks -- made before 2005 riots in the suburbs -- that described young delinquents as "racaille" or rabble, and insistent references to France's "national identity", have convinced many that he is a more presentable version of the anti-immigrant far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

His biggest handicap is the fear that if he succeeds outgoing president Jacques Chirac he will divide rather than unite the nation.

Anxious to break with what he sees as an outdated state-centred economic system, Sarkozy calls for France to adopt reforms modelled on the so-called "Anglo-Saxon world": a loosening of labour laws, the sell-off of public housing, cuts in the number of civil servants and private investment in the university system.

He also advocates skills-based selection for legal immigrants, and has toughened the rules of entry for migrants' families. He has made a priority of fighting illegal immigration, more than doubling the number of people deported each year.

On Europe Sarkozy has called for a slimmed down mini-constitution to replace the text rejected by French voters in a 2005 referendum, and opposes Turkish entry to the European Union.

He had said he wants to improve links with the United States -- leading the opposition Socialist party to describe him as an "American neo-con with a French passport."

Born in January 1955, Sarkozy had a privileged upbringing in the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly where he served as mayor from 1983 to 2002. He studied law and -- unlike most of France's ruling class -- avoided the elite National Administration School (ENA).

Twice married, Sarkozy has three children -- the third by his current wife Cecilia with whom his stormy relationship has received widespread coverage in the gossip magazines.

His political career began in the 1970s as a supporter of Chirac, under whom he served as budget minister from 1993 to 1995. Chirac initially saw him as a possible heir but the two fell out after Sarkozy's support for a rival in the 1995 election.

Despite their differences, Chirac said Wednesday he would give his "vote and support" to Sarkozy as the candidate chosen by the UMP.

With Chirac's reelection in 2002 Sarkozy was overlooked for the post of prime minister and instead took over at interior, where he began his hectic progress towards the 2007 presidential deadline.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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