Profile: Sarkozy wants 'clean break' for France
March 25, 2007 , Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-talking right-wing front-runner for the French presidency, casts himself as a moderniser and the natural candidate to lead France into a "clean break" with a discredited past.
March 25, 2007
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 and firm line on law and order. But they also expose his biggest weakness: more than other mainstream politicians he has polarised the public.
*quote1*Much-reported remarks -- made before the 2005 riots -- describing young delinquents as "racaille" or rabble, coupled with recent talk of France's "national identity," convinced many on the left that he is little more than a presentable version of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
His biggest handicap is the fear that as president he would divide rather than unite the nation.
Sarkozy advocates economic 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 set up the country's first official Islamic body and argues for US-style affirmative action to favour ethnic minorities.
*sidebar1*He opposes Turkey's membership in the European Union and said he wants France to improve its ties 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.
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 Jacques Chirac, who initially saw him as a possible heir but the two fell out after Sarkozy backed a rival in the 1995 election.
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.
Subject: French news, Presidential elections