For France’s pres­i­dent-elect, there are no shades of gray

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Jamey Keaten

PARIS — Ni­co­las Sarkozy’s as­cent to the French pres­i­dency ex­em­pli­fies the France that he en­vi­sions — a land of op­por­tu­nity for those — even im­mi­grants’ chil­dren like him­self — who work hard and abide by the rules.

Crit­ics call Mr. Sarkozy, 52, a dan­ger­ous neo­con­ser­va­tive. He heaps praise on Amer­ica and strongly backs Is­rael. He of­ten sees so­ci­ety in terms of black and white, right and wrong.

Mr. Sarkozy got to the pres­i­den­tial El­y­see Palace through grit, huge am- bi­tion, op­por­tunism and by promis­ing a fresh start for France af­ter 12 lack­lus­ter years un­der his pre­de­ces­sor and for­mer men­tor, Jac­ques Chirac.

Al­though Mr. Chirac and Mr. Sarkozy are po­lit­i­cal con­ser­va­tives, they were of­ten ri­vals, not al­lies. For all his guile and ex­pe­ri­ence, even Mr. Chirac could not thwart Mr. Sarkozy’s rise to the top — though he is thought to have had other suc­ces­sors in mind.

“I don’t want to be pres­i­dent; I must be pres­i­dent,” Mr. Sarkozy told bi­og­ra­pher Catherine Nay.

Pug­na­cious and dy­namic, Mr. Sarkozy has up­set many. He fanned anger in poor neigh­bor­hoods where many­black­sandArab­slive­by­call­ing delin­quents there “scum.” The neigh­bor­hoods were swept up by a three­week wave of ri­ot­ing in late 2005. He has re­fused to apol­o­gize. “I cer­tainly have the in­ten­tion of con­tin­u­ing to call a hood­lum a hood­lum, [and] scum, scum,” he said last month.

For many, this elec­tion was a ref­er­en­dum on Mr. Sarkozy. Many vot- ers backed his chal­lenger, Se­go­lene Royal, in hopes of keep­ing him out.

As pres­i­dent, his main jobs will be de­fense and for­eign pol­icy. His frank­ness could clash with France’s rep­u­ta­tion for cool-headed diplo­macy.

A fer­vent sup­porter of Is­rael and its se­cu­rity, he also sup­ports a Pales­tinian state. He says his first big over­seas trip will be to Africa, a long­time French sphere of in­flu­ence that has been a grow­ing source of il­le­gal aliens to Europe.

On the cam­paign trail, Mr. Sarkozy did not stray far from Mr. Chirac’s line on for­eign af­fairs. He lacks the vast per­sonal con­tacts in the Mid­dle East or Africa that Mr. Chirac em­ployed.

Mr. Sarkozy has em­braced the nick­name “Sarko the Amer­i­can” af­fixed by crit­ics, say­ing France and the United States have a demo­cratic kin­ship that tran­scends dis­agree­ments like one over the Iraq war.

Mr. Sarkozy has re­peat­edly plucked pol­icy ideas from the United States. As in­te­rior min­is­ter, he led a “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy on crime sim­i­lar to that of for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani. He fa­vors a form of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion — to hoist marginal­ized blacks and Arabs into main­stream so­ci­ety.

He is a fierce critic of France’s 35hour work week, a So­cial­ist re­form of the 1990s, and prom­ises to get around it by en­cour­ag­ing more over­time with tax breaks.

Ni­co­las Paul Stephane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa grew up in a mid­dle­class Paris home, the sec­ond of three sons of a French mother and an aris­to­cratic Hun­gar­ian fa­ther who fled com­mu­nism af­ter World War II.

Their di­vorce, when Ni­co­las was three, was a sore point for him at the Catholic school he at­tended. His mother raised the boys with their grand­fa­ther, a Jewish-Greek doc­tor.

Mr. Sarkozy at­tended Paris’ pres­ti­gious In­sti­tute of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ences and trained as a lawyer. But he did not go on to the Ecole Na­tionale d’Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the fin­ish­ing school for much of France’s po­lit­i­cal elite.

His am­bi­tion knows few bounds. In 1983, at 28, he pushed aside his po­lit­i­cal men­tor — who was also best man at his wed­ding — to be­come mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, France’s rich­est town per capita.

Five years later he was elected to the Na­tional As­sem­bly and be­came bud­get min­is­ter and gov­ern­ment spokesman in the early- to mid1990s, un­der Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Bal­ladur.

He took his big­gest po­lit­i­cal hit when he en­dorsed Mr. Bal­ladur in­stead of Mr. Chirac in the 1995 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Mr. Chirac won, and Mr. Sarkozy was cast into the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness.

When con­ser­va­tives re­gained con­trol of par­lia­ment in 2002, how­ever, Mr. Chirac ap­pointed him in­te­rior min­is­ter. Mr. Sarkozy led a crack­down on crime, and his pop­u­lar­ity soared.

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