Sarkozy feels the strain of office

July 30, 2009 12:00 am

, PARIS, July 30 – Nicolas Sarkozy relishes the hectic life of a wheeler dealer president who has thrown himself into international diplomacy, gone through a divorce, found a new wife and made new political enemies.

He is known as the "hyper-president" and news that the 54-year-old French leader was taken to hospital on Sunday only highlights the strain that goes with the job.

Sarkozy convincingly won a presidential election in May 2007 on a promise to reform France’s hidebound ways and kick-start a sluggish economy.

Voters at first loved his tough-talking style and were enthralled by the ins and outs of his private life, including his 2007 divorce and his 2008 marriage to Carla Bruni.

Many liked the spotlight cast on their country during Sarkozy’s efforts to end the Russia-Georgia war and made a six-month barnstorming performance last year when France held the EU presidency.

In recent months his poll ratings have tumbled as the economic crisis takes a toll on French jobs, but Sarkozy has rarely been out of the headlines.

Within six months of his election, Sarkozy was ending his second marriage to Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz which had lasted 11 years. Within six months he had made heiress, ex-supermodel turned pop singer Bruni wife number three.

Sarkozy has a son, Louis, from his marriage to Cecilia and two sons, Pierre, 23, and Jean, 22, from his first marriage to Marie-Dominique Culioli.

Cracks in Sarkozy’s relationship with Cecilia started to show when she 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.

The French public had never seen a president’s private life paraded in public like this. "It was not the happiest time in my life," Sarkozy commented at one news conference.

He barely had time to get used to being single before meeting Bruni at a dinner arranged by an advertising executive friend to cheer him up.

The French press labelled Sarkozy "the bling-bling president" for parading his glitzy romance with Bruni in public, for wearing expensive Rolex watches and for socialising on the yachts of multimillionaire friends.

The son of a Hungarian aristocrat who fled to France to escape communism and the grandson of a Greek Jew, 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 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.

Sarkozy got his first big break in politics when he was elected mayor of Neuilly at the age of 28, becoming France’s youngest mayor.

He shot to prominence when he helped negotiate the release of schoolchildren at a school in the town who had been taken hostage in 1993 by a deranged man who called himself The Human Bomb.

Sarkozy fell out with Chirac 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 an outsider who fought his way to the top, consumed with ambition.

Sarkozy established his tough-talking credentials during two stints as interior minister, when he tightened 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 once quipped.

He made "breaking with the past" the catch-phrase of his election campaign, promising American-style transparency and a results-driven approach.

When in the presidency, Sarkozy started the monumental task of getting the French economy moving, partly by undermining the 35-hour work week introduced by the previous socialist government.

Sarkozy was taken ill while exercising, according to the Elysee Palace.

He is an avid jogger, often out running with aviator sunglasses and a New York Police Department T-shirt.

Whether vacationing on the yacht of billionaire friend Vincent Bollore or flying aboard his private plane, Sarkozy is unapologetic about his friendships with the wealthy, showing he is comfortable with money and success.

Under his leadership, France warmed ties with the United States and sought to raise its profile. Sarkozy embarked on a frantic shuttle diplomacy operation in a bid to end the Russia-Georgia war in August last year.

He threatened to boycott a Group of 20 summit in London this year if tough financial reforms were not proposed, but eventually turned up smiling as ever.


Latest Articles

Most Viewed