Secret Sarkozy (and Carla Bruni) Tapes Are So Bad They’re Good

Carla Bruni Sarkoy and former French preisdent Nicolas Sarkozy enjoy pretending that he is a "kept" man.

Carla Bruni Sarkoy and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy enjoy pretending that he is a “kept” man.

There are moments when France feels very small. Like in the middle of August, when almost all French people seem to have gone on vacation at the same time, as though school were on break. Or like now, when a tacky drama involving a vain former president, his supermodel wife, his reactionary former advisor, and the advisor’s estranged son, unfolds in the national spotlight, like a bad day-time melodrama with everyone gathered around the TV watching.

What happened is that on Wednesday, several French media published secret recordings of former president Sarkozy that were taped by one of his closest advisors, Patrick Buisson, without the knowledge of Sarkozy or anyone else. And these secret recordings were leaked to the media not by Buisson himself—but by an as yet undiscovered enemy of his. Whom many suspected initially was his son. Who is suing his father.

That’s just to give you a teaser. It gets worse, or better, depending on what you consider good spectacle.

Nicolas Sarkozy and his former advisor, Patrick Buisson, were close throughout the former French president's administration.

Nicolas Sarkozy and his former advisor, Patrick Buisson, were close throughout the former French president’s administration.

It is important to note that Patrick Buisson, who has been close to Sarkozy since 2005, a few years before his election, is often referred to in French media as “a shadow advisor.” A shadow adviser, not only because Buisson has never held an official position in any kind of administration, but also because of his longstanding political affiliation with the extreme right. He is, in fact, the advisor directly responsible for Sarkozy’s decision to turn his politics sharply toward a nationalist, anti-immigration right near the end of his 2012 re-election campaign. That he lost. In part, many think, because of this right-wing turn.

Implicit in the description of Buisson as “shadow” advisor is “shadowy,” as he is now regarded with some distaste by many people in Sarkozy’s own party and considered guilty of an and undue influence that was responsible for the eviction of their party from power. “Shadowy” also because this same guy who had open-door access to the Elysée palace and the French president’s thinking, and a key policy-making influence, was also described by Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder and former leader of France’s extreme-right National Front party, as “an intellectual of the French right who, in the bottom of his heart, probably shares my ideas more than those of Nicolas Sarkozy.”

So that describes who the spy is in this case: pretty much your boiler-plate villain, the faux best-friend type who ends up having all sorts of skeletons in his closet and a recorder in his pocket. He even bears a striking resemblance to the famous Simpsons villain, Montgomery Burns.

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Montgomery Burns, Simpsons villain.

 

Patrick Buisson, Sarkozy villain.

Patrick Buisson, Sarkozy villain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what the recordings reveal is just as tawdry as the Buisson character is caricatural. President Sarkozy and his former supermodel-and-singer wife, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, are recorded bantering about money—all the money she’s giving up by having married the president and not being able to accept big modeling contracts anymore. “Julia Roberts 44, Sharon Stone 52, Julianne Moore 53…All of them, with these incredible contracts, right? That I can’t accept for the moment…because it isn’t proper,” she says wishfully. “Afterwards,” she goes on, “I’m going to re-sign those contracts. I’m not even going to wait that long…if I can avoid it….”

Sarkozy in the recordings confirms every received idea everyone has ever had about him since the very first minutes of his ostentatious presidency (spent on the yacht of one of France’s richest men). He jokes about how, despite all the free room and board they get—three different government apartments, he says—they still choose to rent a house (Bruni-Sarkozy’s townhouse in a private mew of Paris’s posh 16th arrondissement). He is evidently quite delighted by all this excessive spending. “In our relationship,” the former president clucks, talking about his wife, “it’s Carla who gets the bill…I’m a kept man.” He loves it.

In the recordings, Carla Bruni Sarkozy looks forwzrd to signing modellign contracts again, saying it's a shame to leave it to 22-year olds to sell eye-wrinkle cream.

In the recordings, Carla Bruni Sarkozy looks forward to signing modeling contracts again, saying it’s a shame to leave it to 22-year olds to sell eye-wrinkle cream.

The political discussions revealed are probably typical of any back-room dealings that high-placed politicians engage in when they think they’re in private. Lots of close presidential advisers accusing ministers of incompetence, lots of ingratiating themselves with the President. Except that the particular recordings published (just two, from a few days in 2011) do sound particularly full of intrigue.

They include a request from President Sarkozy on the eve of a big public address to discreetly forward his speech to the head of France’s leading right-wing newspaper, Le Figaro. Patrick Buisson himself does it. He even advises the editor-in-chief, “to get in the headline the idea of the need to adapt to circumstances. That’s the idea.” Presidents indirectly writing headlines is as pretty cliché as it gets when it comes to political manipulation. That probably wouldn’t even sustain an episode of a political drama on TV: too done, too potboiler.

But the plot gets even more hackneyed. The person initially suspected of having leaked the recordings to the media—was the villain’s son. Georges Buisson was a son who followed in papa’s footsteps. First he became a journalist like his father. And then he went to work in the network of which his father was vice-president. And then he became a partner…in his father’s political consulting business. Father-son identity nepotism self-esteem manipulation issues, right?

Right. The father-son consulting firm is audited for its overly-lucrative contracts with the Elysée, the son realizes he’s just a straw man in the company unwittingly helping the father evade taxes, the father and son come to public blows in the hallways of their TV network, and the son sues the father for mismanagement. Pretty stale, but the comments each has been tossing out about the other in the media recently are even more trite low blows.

Georges Buisson confirms his father’s recordings existed since at one point—like all sons for their technology-challenged fathers—he uploaded the recordings to Patrick Buisson’s computer. He says that his father is paranoid and obsessed with recording everything, that he has recorded things his whole life. The father probably doesn’t appreciate the son’s…openness with the media and has explained that his son is “psychologically vulnerable,” “feeble-minded”, and “manipulated by people who are after the father.”

Sigh…so seen-before, right?

Here’s wishing it were just a badly-scripted melodrama that made you wonder who watches this kind of cliché crap. Except that it involves France’s former president and the man allegedly responsible for much of the country’s policy for five years. It’s a badly-scripted melodrama that has no place in public life and yet is the reflection of a very recent period of French public life when politics and media and money were all mixed up, and bad friends who turn out to be villains had a lot of influence.

Here’s wishing France weren’t so small.

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Why Another French–Youth–Revolution is Coming Up

Could May 2014 look like Mai '68?

Could May 2014 look like Mai ’68?

A big survey of French youth came out this week and France has declared, yet again, that it is very worried about its young people. I have written about it here before and, besides, what country isn’t worried about its 25 and unders, right? It’s been a long global recession, and all over the world, there’s been talk of a lost generation, of whole decades’ worth of kids without futures.

But France has had problems with its youth before. It was called May ’68—you’ve probably heard of it—and it both terrified and totally revolutionized French society. And this week, for the first time since France has been officially deeply concerned about its youth in this time of crisis, the word “revolution” is on people’s lips again.

“The self-portrait is dark”…“It’s a generation that’s been sacrificed, scorned, downgraded, that’s been denied a fair shot by society and the professional world, and that faced with so much frustration, could explode.”

Those are just a few of the assessments of a large-scale survey of 18 to 34-year-olds done last fall in a partnership between some of France’s leading media (the newspaper Le Monde, the public TV consortium France Télévisions, the radio station Europe 1). The first results, focusing on youths under 25, came out this week, headlined with some pretty depressing numbers. It turns out that not only do 45% of France’s kids think they will be worse off than their parents, but 43% think their own children will be worse off than they. Also, over a third of youths think they won’t ever know anything but economic crisis throughout their lives.

False promises, say French youth, who don't actually believe they are guaranteed any opportunities up ahead.

False promises, say French youth, who don’t actually believe they are guaranteed any opportunities up ahead.

French youth, it seems, is totally exploding the French barometer of pessimism. This might not seem terribly unusual, since the French manner, as it tends to be perceived abroad, always comes with a subtext of pessimism—this is the French way (they always rank highest in global measures of pessimism). But usually it’s not the way of 18-year-olds. Usually there is a sense of dewy expectation and hope, a notion that—as most parents, most societies, most governments tell their kids almost mechanically—you have your whole future ahead of you.

Not the French kids. They are, evidently, disgruntled, bummed out, depressed. In France, over 25% of 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed. One in four kids is sitting by the phone feeling, to some extent, disempowered from any control of his or her own fate, which makes it hard to make plans for that whole future ahead of you. Among those who do have jobs, 60% believe they are underpaid relative to their qualifications, and nearly half think they are over-qualified for their jobs.

Is that just Generation Y entitlement? That generation of kids that expects promotions right away and is talking about work-life balance in the first five minutes of their job interviews? That generation that, allegedly, wasn’t educated in the ways of hard work and hard knocks and doesn’t really get the concept of delayed gratification?

The disaffection of French youth could lead...

The disaffection of French youth could lead…

According to this survey, no. It’s not a free-lunch generation. Among those polled, 81% say they believe strongly in the value of work. Their disgruntlement, it seems, is more complex, rooted in the very way the system is structured. It’s not that they don’t want to work hard or that they don’t appreciate the opportunities to do so—it’s that they feel that they’re denied those chances. Fully 70% of youths think that French society doesn’t give them the means to show what they’re capable of. That’s a sharp rise from 2006, when 53% thought that. The highly-selective secondary school system, the prestige-driven higher education system—61% of kids say it lacks meritocracy, that the education system doesn’t reward skill, and doesn’t give equal opportunities.

So what is to be done? The French government, for one, doesn’t really seem to know; or to want to acknowledge what this survey reveals: that the disaffection of French youth doesn’t concern just their own future, but the whole way things work in France. Like lots of other problems, the French government does seem to want to acknowledge that its youth problem is structural. And in any case, as far as the 18 to 25-year-olds are concerned, the government probably doesn’t have the solution anyway since 46% of youths don’t trust politicians at all.

The disaffection of French youth could lead to revolt.

The disaffection of French youth could lead to revolt.

According to sociologists who are interpreting the survey, the time for solutions for youths may be over, and the possibility of revolution could be real. They describe it as a pressure cooker without a release. “It’s a generation that wants entry into an ageing society,” say the sociologists. “They are enraged to be left waiting on the doorstep. They don’t want to overthrow society—there isn’t actual a conflict of values—but they are tired of hitting against closed doors and they are sending out a warning.” They see the classic ingredients for a potentially explosive social cocktail: frustration with being excluded, with a lack of social status, with unfulfilling, under-paying jobs, with having no jobs or homes at all.

Add to that mistrust of politicians and the sense of being denied the right even to hope for success in the future and you get this kind of answer from youths to the question of whether they could imagine a May ’68 type revolt now or in the near future: 61% said yes. Including more than half of those youths who do have jobs.

French youth might depressed and pessimistic, but evidently, they’re also pissed.

The French might want to have a serious think about finding a new—potentially terrifying, undoubtedly disruptive, and necessarily innovative—place for their youth today… before May 2014 rolls around.