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Sarkozy’s NY talk sparks comeback speculation

Latest update : 2012-10-11

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to address a banking conference in New York Thursday, leading commentators to speculate as to whether this means he is preparing a political comeback or merely seeking a career on the lecture circuit.

Nicolas Sarkozy was due in New York on Thursday to address a banking conference, with opinion split on whether this is the start of a post-presidential career on the lecture circuit or if the French right-winger has secret plans to make a political comeback.

Sarkozy himself was giving nothing away.

The US trip is so hush-hush that his entourage refused to even confirm the former French president's appearance at the conference at the Waldorf Astoria hotel hosted by Brazilian investment bank BTG Pactual.

But an agenda posted Tuesday in a conference room at the posh Manhattan hotel showed the 57-year-old politician was to speak on Thursday at lunchtime.

Sarkozy has stayed out of the limelight since losing the presidential election to the Socialist Francois Hollande in May, spending a lot of his time on holiday in Canada, Morocco and on the French Riviera with his ex-supermodel wife Carla Bruni.

He has made just one one public statement, criticising Hollande's policy on the conflict in Syria.

So his trip to New York has sparked speculation that he may be following the example of Tony Blair or Bill Clinton and aiming to earn big money on the lecture circuit.

Clinton, US president from 1993 to 2001, last year made $13.4 million (10.4 million euros) in speaking fees alone, according to his wife's tax returns, while Blair, British prime minister from 1997 to 2007, earns up to $250,000 a speech.

Sarkozy is seen domestically as having failed to deliver much of the radical reform he promised, and was accused by many in his UMP party of taking it too far to the right in a bid to draw voters from the anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front.

But he also steered France through its biggest economic crisis in decades, and notched up foreign policy successes in Libya last year and during Georgia's brief war with Russia in 2008.

Such experience is eminently bankable in the post-dinner speech world, even if Sarkozy is already in fine financial health, with an heiress wife, a generous presidential pension and income from his part-time job on France's Constitutional Council.

He has recently appeared on magazine covers looking tanned, unshaven and relaxed, and media reports quote associates saying he has been busy perfecting his until now broken English to get ready for his speaking engagements.

But if he does embark on the lecture circuit, he risks damaging his political prospects, warned Frederic Dabi of the IFOP polling institute.

He believes that a deepening economic crisis could play in favour of Sarkozy, who despite record unpopularity when he was president, is currently more popular than Hollande, according to a survey by Harris Interactive.

"He could bet on the difficulties of the executive (Hollande's government) to one day appear as a saviour," said Dabi.

A career on the lucrative lecture circuit, "far from national realities", would however go against him if he decided to try to return to domestic politics, he said.

But Sarkozy's former interior minister and friend, Brice Hortefeux, said Wednesday that speaking at conferences abroad in no way meant that Sarkozy had ruled out a return to French politics.

Politics, he said, was a "matter of desire, of duty and of circumstances".

Last week Le Canard Enchaine weekly reported that Sarkozy had told a friend, former minister Bruno Le Maire: "Given the disastrous condition France is likely to be in five years from now, I will have no choice in 2017."

That is when the next presidential election is due.

Whichever path he takes until then, he still has a slew of legal woes to deal with.

These deepened Wednesday when French anti-graft campaigners said they had lodged a complaint against him for allegedly misusing public funds to pay for opinion polls.

Sarkozy lost his presidential immunity from prosecution in June and is now faced with several legal probes into corruption and campaign financing violations.

(AFP)
 

Date created : 2012-10-11

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