John Lichfield in Paris
June 9, 2011
Former President Jacques Chirac takes a belated and malicious revenge on his ex-protégé, President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the second volume of his memoirs to be published next week.
Ten months before President Sarkozy faces a difficult re-election campaign, the popular ex-president describes his one-time follower as impetuous, disloyal, ungrateful, provocative and – worst of all – unFrench in his political attitudes.
For good measure, Mr Chirac – retired and allegedly semi-detached from the world – goes out of his way to eulogise the former Socialist leader François Hollande, the man who is emerging as Mr Sarkozy's most dangerous electoral rival next year. The ex-president describes his long-time political opponent, Mr Hollande, as a "true statesman".
Ex-president Chirac has previously avoided public attacks on President Sarkozy since he took office. The timing, and contents, of the second volume of his memoirs will therefore be seen as an act of revenge for a series of alleged treacheries by Mr Sarkozy, beginning in 1995 with his decision to dump Mr Chirac and support another centre-right candidate for president.
Despite facing a trial in September for alleged embezzlement of public money for party funds, Mr Chirac, 78, has become, in his retirement, the most popular political figure in France. President Sarkozy remains deeply unpopular, despite his efforts to generate a more presidential image and despite signs of a French economic recovery.
Extracts from Mr Chirac's rambling and selective second volume of memoirs – Le temps Presidentiel, memoires II – were published by two French news magazines yesterday. They unerringly address Mr Sarkozy's electoral weak spots. The book describes Mr Sarkozy as "nervous, impetuous, boiling over with ambition, doubting nothing and certainly never doubting himself". Mr Chirac says that he twice considered but rejected Mr Sarkozy as a possible prime minister because he was too "right-wing economically", wanted to appeal too directly to the "far right", was too pro-American and "because we probably did not share the same vision of France".
For the most part, the book presents a blandly self-justifying and selective view of the Chirac years in the Elysée Palace. It glosses over the concerted dirty tricks employed by Mr Chirac and his own clan to derail Mr Sarkozy in the run-up to his triumphant 2007 campaign.
The book also fails to address the allegations which Mr Chirac will face in September that he "embezzled" Paris town hall funds to fund his political career in the 1980s and 1990s. The ex-president dismisses these accusations as "rumours" stirred up by opponents – implicitly including Mr Sarkozy – to "serve personal ambitions and denigrate people at the highest levels of the state".
The memoirs go on to skewer Mr Sarkozy for his openly disloyal and disrespectful attitude during President Chirac's second term in the Elysée Palace from 2002-7. Mr Chirac says that Mr Sarkozy, when Interior Minister, risked damaging the "institutions of state" by mocking the President publicly (making fun, for instance, of the Chiraquian love of Japan and sumo wrestling).
The former president says that he seriously considered firing Mr Sarkozy for insubordination, but decided to avoid a destructive confrontation. Mr Chirac claims, however, that he did take the future president to task in 2005 when, as Interior Minister, he referred to multiracial youth gangs as "scum" and promised to clean a troubled Paris suburb with a "Karcher" or high-powered hose.
Mr Chirac's book implies that Mr Sarkozy's remarks helped to generate the suburban riots of October-November 2005 by "exacerbating antagonisms and putting one section of society against another".
The ex-president implicitly compares Mr Sarkozy's attitude with that of Mr Hollande, when he was leader of the Socialist Party in 2004. By ensuring bipartisan support of Mr Chirac's ban on Islamic headscarves in state schools, Mr Hollande "acted like a true statesman," Mr Chirac writes.