Sarkozy's PM suffers from more than back pain
Rumours have it that Francois Fillon is hurting as Sarkozy has hinted he is going to end the prime minister’s term in 2009.18 July 2008
PARIS - Suffering from acute back pain for the past three weeks, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has also become the target of puns about what is really making him suffer.
Fillon, who outshines President Nicolas Sarkozy in public opinion polls, has been bed-ridden at his Matignon residence since Friday due to worsening sciatica, a painful nerve affliction of the lower back and upper thighs.
After Sarkozy suggested in an interview to Le Monde that he may be looking at a cabinet reshuffle when he reaches the half-way mark of his presidency early next year, the opposition said Fillon was hurting.
"I understand that he is suffering because his exit has been announced in an interview in Le Monde," Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande said.
"It's already over: He is going to suffer, but he knows when it's going to end."
French media reports have suggested that relations between Fillon and Sarkozy have been strained over the president's propensity to hog the limelight and reduce his prime minister to a petty junior role.
Addressing those criticism, Sarkozy said in the interview that Fillon "was not suffering any more than" other prime ministers who served under Charles De Gaulle or Francois Mitterrand.
"Francois Fillon is fully taking charge of his mission," said Sarkozy.
The prime minister's back problems come as Sarkozy is battling to salvage a flagship bill on institutional reform, opposed by the Socialists, and as France holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.
Fillon nevertheless managed to turn up at the Senate on Tuesday, hobbling along with a cane, to defend the bill on institutional reform, but he did not attend Bastille Day celebrations on Monday.
The 54-year-old politician was also forced to miss the inaugural summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, attended by more than 40 leaders in Paris on Sunday.
Le Parisien newspaper meanwhile interviewed a top back specialist about Fillon's condition and asked whether it could be psychosomatic, given that the prime minister had to constantly "watch his back".
"It's not all in his head," responded Christian Garreau de Loubresse. The nerve damage is visible on a MRI scan, he said.
[AFP / Flickr contributor World Economic Forum / Expatica]