The Telegraph | May 6, 2012
Nicolas Sarkozy who rode to office five years ago promising a historic “rupture” was on Sunday night booted out of office having exhausted his nation.
The “Sarko show”, a five-year rollercoaster ride of political and private highs and lows frequently rendered France open-mouthed in disbelief or wonder.
The French took a risk in electing a high-wire, hardline interior minister with a refreshingly pro-market approach.
He was on the back foot from the start after spending an ill-advised electoral soirée in Le Fouquet’s, the Champs-Elysées bar.
More eyebrows were raised when the “bling bling president” jetted off in aviator shades to a billionaire friend’s luxury yacht, cancelling plans to spend a couple of days meditating in a monastery.
Used to an aloof leader, the French quickly realised they were in for front line politics after Mr Sarkozy dubbed his bit-part prime minister a mere “collaborator”.
He went on to build a half-female “rainbow” cabinet, which included a high-profile left-wing foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, and France’s first senior minister of North African origin, the glamorous Rachida Dati.
But soon his private life was making the headlines. He became the first French president in office to divorce; his second wife Cécilia left him after a desperate struggle to woo her back from her lover. A month later, he met supermodel and singer Carla Bruni, who famously claimed that “monogamy bores me”. The pair were married within months.
Meanwhile, Mr Sarkozy caused offence after being filmed telling a man who refused to shake his hand to “get lost, you stupid bastard”.
Hervé Gattegno of Le Point, said: “He became a reality TV president, a bizarre mixture of ordinary man and media star, whose daily life was a permanent show. It should come as no surprise if, in the end, the public eliminated him like a vulgar Star Academy candidate.”
Foreign leaders were perplexed at his hands-on style, with Angela Merkel said to abhor his tactile Latin manners. Relations with British leaders were generally good, but that did not stop him telling David Cameron to “shut up” at a European summit.
He made his international mark, returning France to NATO’s military command for the first time since 1966, negotiating a ceasefire in a 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, and leading Western military action in Libya last year. Mr Sarkozy was energetic in the G20 and G8 during the economic crisis, forming a “Merkozy” duo with the German Chancellor to avert the demise of the euro.
He faced off mass protests in France to pass a reform raising the official retirement age from 60 to 62, and made good a promise to only replace half of retiring state workers. He passed a law banning the burka.
But it was rough ride for an electorate used to the state cossetting its citizens. One Sarkozy friend, who declined to be named, conceded before the result: “Economically, I want him to win because Hollande will be a disaster for France. But for the sake of social stability, it is better if Sarkozy loses.”
There were other flaws that also grated on the majority.
A key faux pas was to try to make his son Jean, a 23-year-old law student, head of the public body in charge of La Défense, Paris’ business district. The plan was scrapped amid claims of nepotism. His camp got bogged down in illegal party funding allegations involving L’Oréal billionaire Liliane Bettencourt and more recently Muammar Gaddafi. He has been accused of using state intelligence services to spy on journalists looking into the Bettencourt affair.
In the campaign, critics accused him of pandering dangerously to the far-Right by harping on about national identity, linking immigration to crime and claiming that National Front leader Marine Le Pen was “compatible with the republic”.
This article was written by Henry Samuel, Paris.