Nicolas Sarkozy, a modern Louis XVI?

The Guardian - 09 April 2010

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy sounded like an 18th-century first lady who lunches, when she appeared live on French national radio to laugh off rumours about infidelity at the Élysée Palace. “Non,” she purred, there was nothing in the silly claims. She had not fallen for a hunky young pop singer called Benjamin Biolay and, “non”, her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, was not being comforted by a young minister-come-karate champion called Chantal Jouanno. Moreover, there would be no possibility ofrevenge against the disloyal underlings accused of spreading the gossip – particularly former justice minister Rachida Dati who, Carla added ominously, remained “our friend”.

So that was that all sorted then? Pas du tout! Forgetting all the grim allusions to affairs of state (or inter-ministerial “karaoke sessions” as one of Sarkozy’s more entertaining wives once described them), what the latest scandal teaches us is that the court of the French head of state is as vindictive and cruel as it was in the days of Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI.

Within hours of Bruni-Sarkozy’s devastating reference to Dati, the former head of the DCRI, the Gallic version of MI5, appeared on another radio station to confirm that he had been ordered to find and punish the blabbermouth. This was not long after Dati, who is now an MEP, had been stripped of her chauffeur-driven car, three bodyguards and even governmental smart phone.

The ever-relaxed Pierre Charron, the Élysée aide responsible for Carla’s publicity and a member of a small phalanx of Sarkozy hardmen nicknamed “the firm”, announced that the “campaign of terror” would continue, adding: “We want those who tried to spread fear to feel fear themselves.” Charon even suggested that Dati might have been involved in some kind of “organised plot” against the president, involving Anglo-Saxon financiers.

You can blame the bankers for anything you like nowadays, but even the Socialists began feeling sorry for Dati, who not so long ago was being tipped to become France’s first female-conservative-single-mum-Muslim president. Meanwhile, two employees of a website run by the Journal du Dimanche were ignominiously sacked for having posted the original infidelity rumours, even though they had solely provided technical assistance to the anonymous author.

Terror, indeed. The tone and ferocity of the presidential couple’s vengeful campaign hardly becomes a modern, democratic republic where everyone should be equal before the law – even the purveyors of unfounded web chat. The tools of the security state, and especially its intelligence services, should not be placed at the hands of an increasingly self-absorbed couple looking to punish their enemies. Sarkozy has an appalling record in this respect, once even ordering a top level police hunt – including DNA swipes – for a scooter which had been stolen from one of his sons.

Whatever the substance of rumours surrounding the president and Bruni-Sarkozy, you can’t help feeling that they are those of a country that is growing increasingly dissatisfied with a leader whose desire for a high-profile, glamorous lifestyle is matched only by his wife’s. And look what happened the last time that happened.

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