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November 28, 2004 - Cocky is not a character trait favored by the French.

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A limited number of readers of Just Above Sunset follow French politics, and more than a handful actually live in France.  Nicolas Sarkozy has come up before in these pages – see September 5, 2004 - Politics and Celebrities, Headscarves, Hostages and Short People for example.  There we see the Hollywood film star Tom Cruise took a break from promoting his latest film "Collateral" in Paris to meet with French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.  Sarkozy is a rising star, or growing power, or something – or so he thinks.  Oh heck, he is.


Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis sends this along, concerning the big Party party at Le Bourget this Sunday.  Politics being what they are, this all sounds too familiar. 


How so?  Republicans pushed a $388 billion spending bill through Congress last Saturday – cutting spending for everything from education to environmental cleanups.  For George Bush?  Two million dollars for the government to try buying back the former presidential yacht Sequoia. The boat was sold three decades ago, and its current owners say the yacht is assessed at almost ten million. They are they are a bit upset by that rider to the bill.


George Bush – meet Nicolas Sarkozy.  You will see if you read on.


Summit of Sarkomania


Paris [Saturday, November 27, 2004]: This weekend France will witness the coronation of Nicolas Sarkozy, who has arranged to be crowned as president of the UMP with a certain amount of expensive and extravagant pomp at Le Bourget on Sunday.


This elevation of the short man who would be president of all the French comes as no surprise. After a democratic vote by party members, it is assumed that he gained a majority over two competitors, but the official results won't be announced until the actual coronation. This has not apparently bothered UMP party members at all.


However the cost of Sunday's ceremony has raised some eyebrows, in his own camp. Officially Sunday's little party for little Nicolas is said to be costing five million euros, but events specialists have estimated the true cost will be in the neighborhood of seven million.


Monsieur Sarkozy, in his present incarnation as Minister of the Economy and Finance, constantly calls for price restraint or 'reforms' that should make life cheaper for the French. It is beside the point that half the benefits he so often produces or promises turn out to be beyond his powers. But by then his publicity machine has moved on to his next media coup, making the short Nicolas the minister the most successful in having no recent past.


According to Friday's Le Parisien, Monsieur Sarkozy has occupied himself for the past weeks with the tiniest details of this weekend's festivities. Flanked by Publicis ad mogul Christophe Lambert and ceremonial director Renaud Le Van, Sarkozy is rumored to be casting himself as the TV star of an American-style political convention.


It is said that he would have preferred his show to be at the Bercy sportspalace or at the Longchamp racetrack - but it was already reserved. Instead this Sarkoshow will be held at the exhibition area of Le Bourget, and is to break with the former 'grand masses' of the Gaullists by being grander than all.


Somehow Sarkozy's conservative political education has led him to believe that the Gaulists and their party, the RPR, are passé, and the time is here for the emergence of the all new, whiter-than-white UMP - most of whose members were Gaullists until Sarkozy decided that they should be - UMPs.


This has something to do with Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist standard bearer, the inheritor of the Gaullist tradition. Jacques, if you can believe Sarkozy's mood, is some sort of albatross - although he remains President of France and nominal head of the RPR party he created - which is now the UMP party - created by Alain Juppé, Bordeaux mayor, and possibly about to be stripped of civic rights if his appeal on a corruption conviction is upheld, soon.


For the first UMP congress in November of 2002 Alain Juppé managed to spend four million euros, and another three million was pulverized for the second congress in February of this year on the eve of elections; unfortunately less than brilliant for the UMP.


The cost of this third congress is due to Sarkozy's success, according to Sarkozy. Members of the UMP now number 25,000, against only 17,000 in 2002. They need planes, TGVs and buses; coming as they do from as far away as Corsica - or Neuilly. There must be entertainers too. All the same, grumbling has been heard and the planned 12 'Roman' theaters have been blue-penciled - as have the giant photos of Sarkozy, Juppé - and Chirac.


After the tinsel and the tons of confetti are being swept up on Monday at Le Bourget, Nicolas and his faithful crew will move into the headquarters of the UMP at 55 rue La Boetie in the 8th arrondissment, with Nicolas having his suite on the ground floor and Madame Sarkozy taking the eighth, in Juppé's old lunchroom.


However the swift Nicolas does not intend to stay in the heady wilds of Saint-Philippe du Roule for long. He wishes to return the party to the vicinity of the Assembly National, where it was before Alain Juppé sold the old HQ, now in use as an Arab embassy.


It is not the Socialists who are tut-tutting about the short conservative leader's extravagances. The Socialists have their own problems with a divisive debate about the European constitution, but have noted that five million is what they threw into the last national presidential campaign behind Lionel Jospin.


The conservative speaker of the Assembly National, Jean-Louis Debre - a Chirac fan - has been speaking out about wretched excess, and suggested that with the hard times the French have, modesty might be a key word. A few other UMP deputies are said to be muttering too, but they are doing it sotto voce.


On the right but closer to the center, UDF members are said to be mumbling about a 'sacre napoléonien' - a not-so-veiled reference to Napoleon's auto-coronation in December of 1804. One also mentioned, in comparison, the measly 200,000 euros for recent voted as emergency aid for storm-damaged Guadeloupe.


Nicolas' fans in contrast, find the controversy in dubious taste. The education minister said that Nicolas wants a high quality show, "Nothing more." Others think that if Sarkozy can mobilize conservatives, whatever the coronation costs, it will be worth it.


Meanwhile, outgoing UMP president Alain Juppé has sent a letter of congratulations to his successor. However 'circumstances' will not permit him to attend the congress of the party he named, or founded, or whatever happened to disappear the RPR name in favor of UMP.


At the last Council of Ministers meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin bade Sarkozy a florid farewell. Somewhat crisper, according to witnesses, Jacques Chirac saluted Sarkozy for his service in the government, for the past 'two and a half years.'


Then Sarkozy exited into Jacques' Elysée garden, and plunged into a forest of audio booms and TV cameras before returning to Bercy to clean out his deck, suite of offices and taxpayer-paid living quarters.


Thus begins, I suspect, the end of the era of Nicolas. As a simple party leader little Nicolas will not be able to command the non-stop media attention that he seems so obviously to thrive on. Of course he can snipe at the government, but his own UMP party firmly holds the ruling majority. Criticizing it too much will be like spitting in his own soup.


It is said that the French distrust success, the successful. Perhaps our pocket Napoleon is successful because is never actually does what he says he will do, but is convincing when he says it. As now seems increasingly common, the UMP party members have memories as short as any, but they are completely in love with Nicolas for the moment.


The rest of the French, the majority, are attuned to deception and failure. Any politician keeping a promise is a true exception here.  Most know that Nicolas in unlikely to be an exception, and hardly likely to be exceptional. Cocky he is, but this is not a character trait favored by the French.





Copyright © 2004 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis




Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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