Nicolas Sarkozy is one step away from realising his ultimate ambition. Ambitious, pragmatic, hyperactive, straight-talking – these are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe the man who has never hidden his desire to occupy the Elysee Palace.
He took a major step on that ladder back in 2004 when he was made president of the ruling conservative UMP. Then, minister of the interior for a second time, he had a convenient position from which to parade his strong views on immigration and security before the electorate, even if the reception was not always positive. His use of the word “scum” to describe violent elements in a poor Paris suburb elicited a shower of bottles and rocks. He shrugged it off, saying: “if the hooligans don’t like me that is fine, because the feeling is mutual”. But he has been wary of returning to such deprived areas since.
His supporters say Sarkozy has forced debate on what it means to be French. The son of a Hungarian minor aristocrat who had come to France as an immigrant, Sarkozy wanted to be a journalist initially but politics changed his life when he became a mayor at just 28 years old. He has cultivated friends in high places and apparently seems skilled at keeping them.
Outgoing President Jacques Chirac has endorsed Sarkozy’s bid for the presidency but it is a relationship that can, at best, be described as rocky. The young Sarkozy was Chirac’s protege but pupil turned against teacher when Sarkozy backed rival candidate Eduard Balladur for president in 1995. Chirac won. Then Sarkozy took over Chirac’s political party the UMP and turned it into his own election machine.
Sarkozy’s 16 page manifesto can seem contradictory – pro-painful economic reforms such as a longer working week and fewer government employees but, at the same time, claims to be a friend of the workers. He is in favour of the European Union but also pro-protectionism and against the proposed EU constitution unless in a mini-form.
Sarkozy was top of the polls throughout the run up to the first round vote. The relationship with his wife has been equally confusing. Once separated, seemingly heading for divorce, Cecilia Sarkozy is now back at his side, even playing a major behind-the-scenes role in his campaign. It is expected she will be his First Lady if he secures the presidency and will remain by his side as he launches his promised economic revolution for France.