President of France
B orn Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa, January 28, 1955, in Paris, France; son of Paul and Andrée (Mallah) Sarkozy de Nagy Bosca; married Marie-Dominique Culioli, September 23, 1982 (divorced, 1996); married Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz, October 1996 (divorced, October 2007); married Carla Bruni (a model and singer), February 2, 2008; children: Pierre, Jean (from first marriage), Louis (from second marriage). Education: Institute d’Edudes Politiques de Paris, postgraduate diploma in political science, 1969; Nanterre University, master’s degree, 1978; postgraduate studies, Institute d’Edudes Politiques de Paris, 1979-81.
Addresses: Office—Palais de l’Elysee, 55-57 rue du Faubourg, Saint-Honoré 75008 Paris, France.
T own councilor, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 1977,then mayor, 1983-2002; called to the Paris bar,1981; vice chairman, Hauts-de-Seine General Council, 1986-88; national assembly deputy, Hauts-de-Seine, 1988-2002; minister of budget, Government of France, 1993, then spokesman, 1993-94, acting minister of communications, 1995, secretary general, 1998-99, minister of interior, internal security, and local freedoms, 2002-04, minister of economic affairs, finance, and industry, 2004, minister of interior, internal security, and local freedoms, 2005-07, president, 2007—.
Member: President, Union for a Popular Movement (a political party), 2004—.
Awards: Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur, French government.
E lected the president of France in 2007, the energetic Nicholas Sarkozy had an extensive careerin French politics including a position as the long-time mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine and ministry positions in several French governments. While often controversial, the modernizing Sarkozy also made headlines for his love life. His second wife, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz, supported his political career until he was elected president. After their divorce, Sarkozy quickly became involved with model/ singer Carla Bruni, and married her a few months after they met.
Sarkozy was born on January 28, 1955, in Paris, France, the son of Paul Sarkozy de Nagy Bosca and his wife, Andrée. His father was a Jewish native of Hungary and a minor aristocrat who immigrated to France after World War II to escape Communism. His father later converted to Roman Catholicism. His mother was the granddaughter of a Greek immigrant and a law student. The couple had three sons—Sarkozy was the middle child—before Paul abandoned the family when Sarkozy was five years old. (His father later remarried twice and had two more children.)
The scars of the abandonment deeply affected Sarkozy and his family, as his maternal grandfather took responsibility for their welfare while his mother completed her law degree and took a job. Educated at a private Catholic high school with his siblings, the family eventually moved to the upscale Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. Sarkozy’s political career began at the age of 22, when he became a town councilor in Neuilly. He then focused on his education, earning a law degree from Nanterre University in 1978, then doing postgraduate studies at the Paris Institute for Political Studies from 1979 to 1981. Sarkozy was called to the Paris bar in 1981.
Returning to politics in 1983, Sarkozy was elected mayor of Neuilly by unexpectedly defeating Charles Pasqua. When Sarkozy won, he was the youngest mayor of a city in France. He remained in the post until 2002, though he often held other positions in his political party and various national governments. In 1993, Sarkozy came to national attention in France when he oversaw a hostage negotiation with a mentally ill gunman who was holding school children. The children were freed and the man was later killed by the police.
In the government of Prime Minister Edouard Bal-ladur, Sarkozy was named budget minister in 1993. He later became spokesman for the government from 1993 to 1994. Balladur was a rival of Jacques Chirac, the head of Sarkozy’s conservative political party, but Sarkozy endorsed Balladur’s candidacy for presidency over Chirac’s in 1995. This decision laid the seeds for a strained relationship between Sarkozy and Chirac, which would continue into the next decade.
Chirac won the 1995 election for president, and Sarkozy was not named to any position of importance in his administration. Sarkozy briefly served as acting minister of communications in 1995, then secretary general from 1998 to 1999. While he was essentially shut out of Chirac’s governments, Sarkozy built up his political skills and importance to the party through his mayoral position.
In 2002, Sarkozy was selected to become the head of the interior ministry in the newly reelected government of Chirac. Because of rising crime in France, Sarkozy not only took the traditional duties of a minister of the interior but was also in charge of emphasizing domestic security. He implemented a law-and-order campaign. Thus his full title was minister of the interior, internal security, and local freedoms.
Sarkozy left the interior ministry behind in 2004 to become Chirac’s minister of economic affairs, finance, and industry. During his time in the post, he oversaw the government bailout of the engineering company, Alstom, which was bankrupt and failing. Not everyone in his party agreed with this move, dubbing it interventionist.
During his nearly two years in charge of the interior ministry and few months as finance minister, Sarkozy emerged as Chirac’s chief rival and gained much support from the people. While Chirac wanted his onetime prime minister Alain Juppé to be his successor, Juppé was convicted for corrupt funding practices. Sarkozy emerged as Chirac’s ambitious successor to the presidency. Polls also showed that Chirac was falling in popularity, while Sarkozy was on the rise because of his work in the post, adding to the tension between the two.
Juppé’s fall also compelled him to resign as the head of their political party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Sarkozy made a run for the head of the UMP to ensure his presidential candidacy in 2007, and was easily elected to the position in November of 2004. Chirac would not allow Sarkozy to be both the head of the party and hold a ministry position in his government, therefore, Sarkozy stepped down as finance minister to focus on running the UMP.
Conceding to Sarkozy’s popularity and political skill, however, Chirac asked him to return as interior minister in 2005. Sarkozy continued his tough talk on immigration and crime, a widely held stance in France, and remained popular. He said he would clean up neighborhoods troubled by petty crimes as well as deport illegal immigrants. This stance was believed to have contributed to the second-generation immigrant youth riots and arson activities which plagued France in the summer of 2005. Yet Sarkozy moved to immediately address the rioter’s concerns and worked to subdue the rioters when other government officials did little. Sarkozy’s actions only increased his power.
By January of 2007, Chirac declined to seek another term as French president, conceding to the popularity of his rival, Sarkozy. Sarkozy ran unopposed in the January elections to determine the candidate for UMP, gaining the support of former rivals such as Juppé. As the UMP candidate, he promised to bring more radical change to France. Sarkozy wanted to reform the welfare system and pensions as well as protect France from the effects of globalization.
In March of 2007, Sarkozy resigned from his position as interior minister in Chirac’s government to focus on his presidential bid. He held only a narrow lead over Socialist Ségolène Royal and center-right nominee Francois Bayrou, and a greater one over the other nine candidates, ahead of the first election date, April 22. After the first round of voting, Sarkozy and Royal remained in the race for the May 6 second round of elections. Sarkozy again held the lead.
Ahead of the May of 2007 elections, Sarkozy worked to gain centrist voters by proving he was more than a tough ball of energy but also sympathetic in that he wanted to protect as well as unite the French people. Yet he made no secret of his plans to make the French work more and make it much easier for companies to hire and fire employees. Royal played up Sarkozy’s divisiveness and problematic personality in her campaign, but to no avail. Sarkozy easily won with 53 percent of the vote in what was an unusually high voter turnout for the French presidential election. By winning the election, Sarkozy became the first son of an immigrant to become France’s president.
As soon as he took office, Sarkozy began implementing significant changes. He cut the number of Cabinet positions to 15 and appointed seven women to posts. Sarkozy also created a new ministry of immigration, integration, and national identity to handle related issues. In addition, he appointed several people from other political parties to his government, including Socialist Bernard Kouchner as France’s top diplomat, to make good on his promises for better human rights and an improved relationship with the United States. Sarkozy made moves to implement his campaign promises related to economic reform as well, including cutting taxes on overtime and limiting the power of unions.
Sarkozy’s political stance was soon confirmed in parliamentary elections, held on June 10, 2007. His UMP party did well, gained seats, and was expected to carry a vast parliamentary majority. The parliamentary elections were seen as popular confirmation of Sarkozy’s desire to implement reform, including the economic reform of a longer work week, and perhaps reform the French constitution.
Within a few months of taking office, Sarkozy’s personal life seemed to overshadow his political work. His second wife, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz, had been his most reliable aide for much of their marriage, which began in 1996; however, she did not hide the affair she had with another man in 2005. Though the couple eventually reconciled, Ciganer-Albéniz did not play a role in her husband’s presidential campaign and the couple divorced in October of 2007.
Shortly after the divorce, Sarkozy became involved with Carla Bruni, an heiress/supermodel of the 1990s who later had a singing career in France and was known for dating such celebrities as Mick Jag-ger and Eric Clapton. The pair made front page news in France by taking high-profile vacations to Egypt and Jordan, and bringing their children to France’s EuroDisney. While it was commonly believed the couple married in January of 2008 after a whirlwind romance, they actually tied the knot on February 2, 2008.
While many in France focused on his personal life, Sarkozy continued to run the French government in a manner different from his predecessor. In February of 2008, he announced a three-year plan to improve and revive the suburban ghettos where Arab and African immigrants often lived in squalor as second-class citizens. Sarkozy promised an increased police presence to quell drug dealers and other social issues, better access to education and job training, and improved bus, train, and tram transportation to aid work prospects.
Such a plan was intended to give hope to immigrant residents, but was also seen as too hard-line by some residents and costly by observers who noted the government already faced a huge deficit. Despite naysayers, Sarkozy believed in his vision and what it meant for France. Geraldine Braum of the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying “I want to tell these kids, who are French, nobody will be judged by their skin color or by the address of their district. France is all of you, in the diversity of what you are and want you believe in.”
Despite such measures, Sarkozy faced dropping poll numbers at the end of 2007 and early 2008. The reasons for his double-digit drop in popularity were France’s failing economy despite reforms, as well as his high-profile, showy lifestyle. Even his son, Jean, broke ranks with his father’s UMP party by not supporting the candidacy of David Martinon for mayor of Neuilly in March of 2008 local elections. Such declining support was putting Sarkozy’s reforms in jeopardy, and the Socialist gained a small majority of the votes in the first round. The defeat did not deter Sarkozy, who took it as a challenge to implement more reform faster.
Sarkozy believed in himself and his vision for France, despite these growing problems. Of his political style, ally Brice Hortefeux told Craig S. Smith of the New York Times, “Other politicians don’t want to take risks, but he will take any risk.”
Testimony: France in the Twenty-first Century, Pantheon (New York City), 2007.
Complete Marquis Who’s Who Biographies, Marquis Who’s Who, 2008.
Associated Press, May 7, 2002; November 29, 2004; March 27, 2007; May 6, 2007; May 18, 2007; February 10, 2008.
Economist, January 13, 2007; April 28, 2007; June 16, 2007; March 22, 2008.
Guardian (London, England), July 17, 2004, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2008, p. A4; January 16, 2008, p. A7; February 9, 2008, p. A3; March 2, 2008, p. I94; March 14, 2008, p. A3; March 17, 2008, p. A3; April 17, 2008, p. A3.
New York Times, May 7, 2007, p. A16; May 19, 2007, p. A4.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), July 15, 2007, p. 33.
“Sarkozy: I have mandate for change,” CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/05/07/france.election/index.html (May 7, 2007).