French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a crisis on his hands. National intelligence has been involved, looking for who leaked details of a party-funding scandal.
For a non-French view, euronews asked Steven Erlanger, the Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, for his view on the affair:
French media coverage on this has been relatively limited; is that good or bad: Could this break Sarkozy?
French media coverage tends to go by party anyway. Everyone knows that Figaro basically backs Sarkozy on the right, and Le Monde, which is still a very good paper, is a little more on the left, and is now owned by prominent members of the Socialist Party. So, things break down that way. There is a kind of balance in French media but it is not an American objectivity and one can tell people’s stripes in their coverage.
Could it break Sarkozy? No i don’t think so. He does look to be in trouble but it’s still two years before an election. Troubles tend to come and go. I don’t think this one is big enough to break him. There are other things that could break him, like the Bettencourt affair itself. But, simply the issue of whether somoeone was wire-tapped or not, I don’t think is sufficient.
One headline about Sarkozy’s approval rating in France called him ‘the incredible shrinking president’. How is his stature in other countries?
Well, I think people are still rather confused by him. There is a sense that he is a different kind of politician. His urge for reforms is widely applauded but his ability to carry them out, and I think The Economist said too, has been too timid. He is considered somebody with big ideas who does not actually follow through on them very well. I think there is a general sense of disappointment.
Can we make any comparisons with other countries in the past with regards to the incorrect use of state resources in a politically- charged investigation?
Yes, one should say that at the moment it is a question of charge and counter-charge. Le Monde says that Mr Sarkozy ordered this tapping of its journalist. Mr Sarkozy and the Elysee deny doing it. But there is no question that there was a wiretap of the official involved. The Elysee and government are saying that when they did that for other reasons, to “protect institutions”, they found many calls to this particular journalist, and that is the reason that they tracked the journalist down, not because they were tapping the journalist. But we will see.
There are lots of other cases. In the United States, there was Watergate, where President Nixon used dirty tricks and wire-tapping and even burglary to try to undermine Democratic candidates. But, you know, there is a long history of dirty tricks in most democracies. Le Monde’s point is an interesting one though. Only in January a law was passed, designed to protect the press and its sources, and Le Monde is alleging that it is Mr Sarkozy himself who has been violating that new law, and that we will have to see.