France’s Sarkozy set to publish ‘mea culpa’ in new book

By Nadhge Puljak, AFP

PARIS–With a year to go before presidential elections, French opposition leader Nicolas Sarkozy has outlined where he thinks he went wrong during his time in power, in a new book to be published on Monday. Sarkozy pinpoints his failure to get tough on France’s famously generous benefits and heavy taxes as the key reason for his defeat at the hands of Francois Hollande in 2012, in his new book “France for life.”

“Today, I regret delaying some reforms that should have been made in the first days of my presidency,” writes Sarkozy, who ran the country from 2007 to 2012 and now leads the center-right Republicans. He admonishes himself for not challenging the 35-hour working week introduced by the Socialists in the late 1990s, or the “solidarity tax on fortunes” that targets the richest citizens but is accused by right-wing opponents of driving wealthy people out of the country.

Actor Gerard Depardieu and rock star Johnny Hallyday are among those who have left France in recent years to escape its hungry taxmen.

Sarkozy also acknowledges his reputation for being short-tempered, regretting that he “gave into anger” on occasion, such as the time he was caught on camera mumbling “Get lost, you stupid bastard” at a man who insulted him during an agricultural show.

The decision to go on a yachting holiday with a millionaire friend immediately after winning the election — a time when France was plunging into an economic crisis — also makes it on to the list of regrets.

However, he denies any wrong-doing in the “Bygmalion affair,” a corruption scandal centered on claims that his party paid some of his campaign expenses to get around strict spending limits.

The scandal involving PR firm Bygmalion has dogged Sarkozy since he went into opposition and led to charges against party leader Jean-Francois Cope. In the new book, Sarkozy reiterates that he “knew nothing about this company (Bygmalion),” which is accused of orchestrating the budget fiddle. After his defeat in 2012, Sarkozy vowed to disappear from the public eye, saying he was done with politics.

It took only two years for him to change his mind, returning to lead the UMP party — which he renamed “The Republicans” — and lining himself up for another possible run at the presidency in May 2017.

But while he remains popular with more right-wing sections of his party for his willingness to challenge some of France’s tax-and-spend policies and his tough talk on immigration, he is a hate figure for more left-leaning voters. The new book makes no effort to hide his ambition to return to the Elysee Palace, but the opinion polls are not looking favorable and he faces a tough primary against his party rivals at the end of the year. Only 21 percent of center-right voters said they backed Sarkozy in a poll this week, way behind his main Republican rival, Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe, on 45 percent.