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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Hello, This Is France Speaking, Are There Any Leaders Out There?

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The French Socialist Party is currently gathered at their annual summer summit.

As the August Paralysis (see my previous post about this) comes to an end, France is beginning to reawaken, with the politicians taking the lead. The great tradition in French politics is for each party to regroup in “Summer Schools,” which are informal summits that take place in lovely seaside spots or the south of France with a lot of networking and genuine hammering out of agendas. But while the Hollande administration gathered this week for a seminar with the theme “France in 2025,” and the Socialist party gathers now for their weekend summer school in La Rochelle (a pretty port town on the Atlantic coast), the opposition UMP party is…bickering. A lot.

And they’re bickering about something that probably seems very strange to the uninitiated. The different (and quite hostile) factions of the UMP are arguing about the right to perform a restrospective assessment of the Sarkozy presidency. It seems like an odd thing to forbid, since what else has any observer been doing since the moment the former president lost his bid for reelection. It also seems like an odd thing to forbid in a democracy! As though the president were some divine king figure whose actions were too sanctified to judge–at the risk of committing a crime of lèse-majesté. (This in itself says a lot about the way the figure of the president is perceived in France, and the way Sarkozy is, for the most part, perceived in his own party).

But here’s the thing: that fomer president is in the midst of doing what no other leader of a democracy in Europe–except Berlusconi in Italy–has ever done. After having failed to be reelected as president, he is unofficially making plans for a comeback to run for president again.

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Fomer French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, made an official comeback in early July.

An assessment by his own party of what Sarkozy accomplished during his five years in office will undoubtedly highlight many accomplishments, but it’ll mostly be the occasion for the UMP party leaders who don’t support a comeback to enumerate all his mistakes and political miscalculations. It’s a very public way of undressing the emperor before he’s even made his first real sortie as a presidential candidate. For an election, by the way, which doesn’t take place until 2017. It’s also a missed opportunity for France’s primary opposition party to be focussing on the Hollande government actions at this crucial back-to-school moment.

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France in 2025?

In the French media this week, there was an interesting unity in the criticisms of both the right wing and the the left wing strategies at the moment. On the one hand the Hollande government was actually ridiculed for deciding to dedicate the opening cabinet meeting to speculations about the country 10 years from now, while the right-wing opposition was criticized for being narrow-mindedly focussed on their own past.

Neither party, it seemed, was talking about France…today.