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New tell-all book reveals Sarkozy’s affinity for French far right

Lionel Bonaventure/Miguel Medina, AFP | Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and his one-time adviser Patrick Buisson

A new book by a former Elysée Palace advisor threatens to tarnish Nicolas Sarkozy’s image as the conservative politician seeks to reclaim France’s highest office in presidential elections next year.

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Patrick Buisson, Sarkozy’s controversial and now estranged former adviser, on Thursday is publishing a lengthy tome recalling the years in which the pair worked alongside each other at the Elysée. Excerpts from the memoir, published in French weekly L’Express on Tuesday, paint an unflattering portrait of a leader who appears obsessed with the far-right National Front (FN) party, and relishes insulting rivals and allies alike.

Sarkozy progressively distanced himself from Buisson after his failed presidential re-election bid in 2012, and severed ties completely in 2014 after his ex-confidant revealed he was in possession of hours of recordings of their personal conversations.

Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, filed a lawsuit against Buisson that year and obtained 20,000 euros in damages. In reference to the tape scandal, the former president would later declare on French television: “In my life I have experienced many betrayals. But never as bad.”

Ahead of the publication of “The cause of the people: The forbidden history of the Sarkozy presidency” (La Cause du peuple, l’histoire interdite de la présidence Sarkozy) Buisson has insisted he is not out to settle scores with his old boss, claiming the book aims to encourage France’s right wing to reflect on recent political history and on the path it should forge in the future.

The timing is nevertheless problematic, at least for Sarkozy. The former head of state hopes to lead a historic fightback for the Elysée after five years of Socialist rule, and is currently running a tight primary race against Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé and five other candidates for the Républicains party presidential nomination.

French weekly L’Express, which was given exclusive access to the book’s excerpts, has said the book “crushes” the presidential hopeful. “Whatever the author’s intentions were, and there are many, the result is nevertheless devastating,” the magazine wrote as it offered a sneak-peek of the political tell-all.

Contacts with Le Pen

Most of the passages published ahead of the book’s official launch this week underscore Sarkozy’s flirtations with the far right and the appropriation of its rhetoric.

Buisson recounts a meeting in 2005 in which Sarkozy allegedly argued that, “the values of the National Front are the same for all French people, it’s just the way the FN talks that is shocking. French people don’t like dishes that are too spicy and burn the mouth.”

Much later, in 2012, he was furious with his then prime minister, François Fillon, after he said the values of the mainstream right were “incompatible” with the fringe far-right. “What is Fillon talking about?” Buisson remembers Sarkozy as saying, “Of course we share common values with the FN.”

But Buisson suggests Sarkozy’s predilection for the far-right went a step too far. The former adviser claims that in 2007, Sarkozy leaned on mayors to help far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen attain the signatures he required to run as a presidential candidate that year.

In a separate incident, he asked Buisson to make contact with Le Pen and promised that he would change voting rules in order to favour the FN in future legislative elections – a pledge he broke once he became president.

Worst friends

Some of the juiciest excerpts have nothing to do with Sarkozy’s opinions about the FN, but about members of his own party.

His intense rivalries with presidential predecessor Jacques Chirac and PM Fillon have been widely reported in the French press. Buisson’s disclosures only add fuel to the fire. Of Chirac, Sarkozy is quoted as saying: “He is the vilest president since World War II” and “I’ve never seen someone so corrupt.” When Fillon attended a ceremony for the opening of a mosque in a Paris suburb in 2010, Sarkozy supposedly remarked, “What a loser, he’s pathetic.”

The memoir reveals that Sarkozy also enjoys cutting down his closest allies. He claimed that years of selling insurance door-to-door turned his Labour minister Xavier Bertrand into “a mean man”, and that his minister of industry Christian Estrosi had “a hazelnut for a brain”.

As a former president who saw his approval ratings nosedive during his time in office, and who has been embroiled in a series of legal battles, Sarkozy is no stranger to criticism and accusations. But Buisson’s alleged revelations – and the questions they are likely to raise among reporters – nevertheless threaten to hamper his campaign.

He refused to comment on his former right-hand man’s memoir during an interview on French radio Europe 1 on Monday. “I have no interest in it,” Sarkozy responded curtly. “It’s not an issue for me.”

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