After General De Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, Francois Mitterrand, who will be moving into the Elysée Palace after the next French presidential election. The people vote on April 22 and May 6, and Nicolas Sarkozy is betting on a second term.
Over the past five years, he set about reforming France, with changes that were often unpopular.
He has been a man in a hurry. Perhaps too much of a hurry, because he appears to have disappointed the French, and is trailing in the polls. But the centre-right UMP candidate still believes in himself and he could yet pull off a surprise.
On the 2012 presidential campaign trail, a humble Nicolas Sarkozy told a rally at Saint Just Saint Rambert in the Loire:“Life has taught me that when you think you can never lose something you hold dear, then that’s the day you lose.”
He might no longer be the sweetheart of the French, but he is ready to fight.
euronews followed the presidential candidate in two departements most affected by unemployment: Haute Loire and the Loire.
In Yssingeaux, the company Lejaby has a small factory that was invaded by a swarm of journalists accredited by Paris to follow the candidate’s every move, and lost in the middle – one foreign journalist.
The Paris correspondent for Spain’s El Pais, Miguel Mora Diaz said: “I don’t get the impression that it’s grabbing the attention of the foreign press. At the moment it’s a very French affair.”
Sarkozy only answers the French press, and drops in recurring themes here and there that are driving his campaign.
“When I commit myself as I have only ever done in my life, I commit totally, absolutely, I’m not half-hearted. I do not and I’ve never been in politics simply to last the course, I have been in politics to do,” he told reporters.
And he was here as a ‘doer.’ More than 80 workers were ‘saved’ by a Sarkozy training plan that changed the output from lingerie to leather goods. Training and employment have been a hallmark of his 2012 campaign.
The young law student was not even 20 years old when he became active in politics. He became a lawyer and a mayor, and he became close to the future president Jacques Chirac.
But in 1995 he made a choice for which he would pay dear. He threw his lot in with presidential candidate Edouard Balladur. But it was Chirac who took the second round vote, and Sarkozy fell from favour.
The disgrace would last seven years.
Perseverance saw him return to centre stage in 2002. Chirac was re-elected, and Sarkozy became Interior Minister, Budget Minister, President of the UMP, then back to the Interior Ministry in 2005.
His abrasive, direct style grated strongly with his critics but proved a hit among his supporters. For two years, his popularity continue to grow, reaching a peak in May 2007. Nicolas Sarkozy finally fulfilled his lifelong dream, becoming President of the Republic.
He celebrated his win with wealthy friends, holidaying on luxury yacht.
And so the President of Bling was born.
But while his career had taken off, his private life was struggling to maintain direction. A highly public divorce was followed swiftly by a new romance
with model Carla Bruni and another marriage.
The French felt as though they had lost touch with their president, who had no time for those who had no time for him.
Hyperactive and ever present in the news and the gossip pages, Sarkozy heeded his critics and changed course. The global financial crisis also posed a challenge in the corridors of power. The twilight of Sarkozy’s presidency was becoming ever darker.
Sarkozy is seeking a second term with dwindling popularity.
After meeting the workers at Yssingeaux, the campaign machine geared up again, his staff and journalists hot on his heels.
Among the onlookers, Lucien Gibert has been compiling an amateur video chronicle of events in the village.
He’s met Giscard d’Estaing and Chirac but he’s hardly seen this president.
“Things have changed a lot,” he said. “It might seem a bit ridiculous to approach a great man, but Jacques Chirac is a great man, a very great man. He was a great President but you could approach him just as anyone could approach him.”
The workers themselves were far from convinced by the visit.
“Are you happy that he came to see you?” we asked.
“No not really. OK, he came – that’s it,” said one worker.
“Yes, he came here to campaign,” said another, “but if he has it in mind to address unemployment he’s had his whole term to think about it.”
The second part of the day included a meeting in a bistro with inhabitants of a village of just 750 people. It was a lesson in how to create maximum impact from a local event.
Residents could not believe the news that he was to visit.
While he spoke to women inside, a crowd gathered outside. After several hours of waiting they found out it had all been over in a matter of minutes, and the man in a hurry had already gone.
In the evening he headed for St Just St Rambert in the Loire. The small town hall was filled with 1200 activists to hear the UMP candidate speak at length about political courage – this the man who famously pushed for pension reform.
“It wasn’t the right time for everyone, it’s never the right time for everyone,” he said. “It wasn’t the right reform, it’s never the right reform, and everyone advised me to do like so many others – to sweep it under the carpet – just one more minute Mr Executioner, it doesn’t matter that it’s our children who will pay. I don’t want our children to pay the debts of a generation incapable of taking on its responibilities.
He developed the themes of responsibility, courage and work, and in a nod to those even further to the right wing, immigration too.
“By trying to include everyone the system ground to a halt. To challenge this reality is to refuse to see reality. If I am elected I will propose to reduce by half the number of people who return to our land.”
“You must know one thing my dear friends: that is how much I need you. Help me build a strong France, help me drive this campaign over the next two months, help me to make our ideas, our values, our ideals win. Long live France and long live the Republic
Afterwards delegates spoke of their admiration for him.
“He’s someone who motivates us with his courage and responsibility,” said one young supporter. “He’s someone who shows us how to succeed, who makes us want to succeed.”
We asked another what would happen were Sarkozy to lose.
“I hope he’ll continue in politics,” came the reply. “Personally I can really see him at the top of the UMP.”
It is uncertain if someone so ambitious would take a backward step after achieving the crowning glory of his career.
The man in a hurry wants a second chance to finish shaping France in his image.