, PARIS, Oct 13 – President Nicolas Sarkozy lamented on Tuesday that his son had been "thrown to the wolves" after the 23-year-old’s imminent appointment to manage France’s top business district whipped up a storm.
News that law student Jean Sarkozy is tipped to become chairman of the EPAD agency overseeing development in the Paris business area La Defense has drawn howls of protest and much derision.
France’s main opposition Socialist Party formally urged the president "to abandon this disastrous project that has already made France a laughing stock among democracies."
But in his first public comments about the row, Sarkozy made clear he considered the outcry to be part of a media campaign unfairly targeting his son.
"It is never right for someone to be thrown to the wolves, without reason and in an excessive manner," Sarkozy told journalists.
The latest row comes days after a scandal threatened to engulf Sarkozy’s culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, who was forced to defend himself on television over a 2005 novel describing his experiences as a sex tourist.
Jean Sarkozy’s appointment, which is all but certain to be approved by the EPAD board in December, would see him replace the minister for economic recovery, Patrick Devedjian, who is retiring.
Dubbed "Prince Jean" by the press, Sarkozy junior has risen from a little-known Sorbonne University student to a major player in his father’s former fiefdom in fewer than two years.
But the blond-haired Sarkozy firmly rejected suggestions that his father was behind his meteoric rise.
"Being called Sarkozy makes things harder, as is evident from the violent personal attacks I have faced from the outset," the president’s son told Le Metro daily.
"I don’t ask for any more rights than anyone else, but I don’t ask for fewer either."
The president’s allies insisted that the younger Sarkozy was merely exercising his right to stand as a candidate while government spokesman Luc Chatel said he found the controversy "extremely shocking."
Ruling party heavyweights lined up to sing the young Sarkozy’s praises, with the president’s onetime mentor Charles Pasqua describing him as "a brilliant boy, with a maturity well beyond his years."
Laurence Parisot, the head of the MEDEF employers’ federation, said it was "wonderful for someone young and committed" to be applying for the top job and complained Sarkozy was a victim of ageism.
Opposition politicians accuse the "Sarkozy clan" of tightening its grip on the "treasure chest" of La Defense, a complex of skyscrapers west of Paris where 2,500 companies including many of France’s top firms are based.
By Tuesday more than 40,000 people had signed an online petition urging the president’s son to pull out.
A Twitter feed on the Internet has drawn hundreds of sarcastic comments suggesting, for instance, that Jean Sarkozy was ripe to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general.
The second year law student was elected in 2008 as a councillor in Neuilly, the rich Paris suburb that catapulted his father to political prominence 30 years ago, and he leads the right-wing majority in the Hauts-de-Seine regional council.
Sarkozy last year married Jessica Sebaoun, heiress to the electronics giant Darty, and they are expecting their first child in December.
Jean Sarkozy has an older brother, rap music producer Pierre, from his father’s first marriage and a half-brother, 12-year-old Louis, from Sarkozy’s second marriage.