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Sarkomania On Show

photo, rue dauphine

Fall mists in the Rue Dauphine.

A Pandora's Box?

Paris:– Monday, 29. November 2004:– This weekend France witnessed the coronation of Nicolas Sarkozy, who arranged to be crowned as president of the UMP with a certain amount of expensive and extravagant pomp at Le Bourget on Sunday.

This elevation of the short man who would be president of all the French comes as no surprise. In a democratic vote by party members, he gained a majority over two competitors, but the official results were only announced during the actual coronation ceremony. This has not apparently bothered UMP party members at all.

However the cost of Sunday's ceremony has raised some eyebrows, in his own camp. Officially Sunday's little fête for little Nicolas was said to be costing five million euros, but events specialists estimated a true cost in the neighborhood of seven million.

Monsieur Sarkozy, in his present incarnation as Minister of the Economy and Finance, constantly calls for price restraint or 'reforms' that should make life cheaper for the French, inphoto, montsouris theory. It is beside the point that half the benefits he so often produces or promises, turn out to be beyond his powers. But by then his publicity machine has moved on to his next media coup, making the short Nicolas the minister the most successful in having no recent past.

In the Parc Montsouris last Wednesday.

According to Friday's Le Parisien, Monsieur Sarkozy has occupied himself for the past weeks with the tiniest details of this weekend's festivities. Flanked by Publicis ad mogul Christophe Lambert and ceremonial director Renaud Le Van, Sarkozy was rumored to be casting himself as the TV star of an American–style political convention.

It was said that he would have preferred his show to be at the Bercy sportspalace or at the Longchamp racetrack – but it was already reserved. Instead the Sarkoshow was held at the exhibition area of Le Bourget, and was to break with the former 'grand masses' of the Gaullists by being grander than all.

Somehow Sarkozy's conservative political education has led him to believe that the Gaulists and their party, the RPR, are passé, and the time is here for the emergence of the all new, whiter–than–white UMP – most of whose members were 'Gaullists' until Sarkozy decided that they should be – Sarkozyist UMPs.

This has something to do with Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist standard bearer, the inheritor of the Gaullist tradition. Jacques, if you can believe Sarkozy's mood, is some sort of albatross – although he remains President ofF France and nominal head of the RPR party he created – which is now the UMP party – created by Alain Juppé, Bordeaux mayor, and possibly about to be stripped of civic rights if his appeal on a corruption conviction is upheld, soon.

For the first UMP congress in November of 2002 Alain Juppé managed to spend four million euros, and another three million was pulverized for the second UMP congress in February of this year on the eve of elections – unfortunately less than brilliant for the UMP.

The cost of this third congress is due to Sarkozy's success, according to Sarkozy. Members of the UMP now number 25,000, against only 17,000 in 2002. They need planes, TGVs and buses – coming as they do from as far away as Corsica – or Neuilly. There must be entertainers too. All the same, grumbling was been heard and the planned 12 'Roman' theaters were been blue-penciled – as were the giant photos of Sarkozy, Juppé – and Chirac.

After the tinsel and the tons of confetti are being swept up on today at Le Bourget, Nicolas and his faithful crew will move into the headquarters of the UMP at 55 rue La Boetie in the 8th arrondissment, with Nicolas having his suite on the ground floor and Madame Sarkozy taking the eighth, in Juppé's old lunchroom.

However the swift Nicolas does not intend to stay in the heady wilds of Saint–Philippe du Roule for long. He wishes to return the party to the vicinity of the Assembly National, where it was before Alain Juppé sold the old HQ – now in use as an Arab embassy.

It has not been the Socialists who are tut–tutting about the short conservative leader's extravagances. The Socialists have their own problems with a divisive debate about the European constitution, but have noted that five million is what they threw into the last national presidential campaign behind Lionel Jospin.

The conservative speaker of the Assembly National, Jean–Louis Debre – a Chirac fanphoto, rue des orchidees – has been speaking out about wretched excess, and suggested that with the hard times the French have, modesty might be desirable. A few other UMP deputies were said to be muttering too, but they were doing it sotto voce.

Houses in the 13th arrondissement.

On the right but closer to the center, UDF members were said to be mumbling about a 'sacre napoléonien' – a not–so–veiled reference to Napoleon's auto–coronation in December of 1804. One also mentioned, in comparison, the measly 200,000 euros recently voted as emergency aid for storm–damaged Guadeloupe.

Nicolas' fans in contrast, find the controversy in dubious taste. The education minister said that Nicolas wants a high quality show, "Nothing more." Others think that if Sarkozy can mobilize conservatives, whatever the coronation costs, it will be worth it.

Meanwhile, outgoing UMP president Alain Juppé has sent a letter of congratulations to his successor. However 'circumstances' will not permit him to attend the congress of the party he named, or founded, or whatever happened to disappear the RPR name in favor of UMP.

At the last Council of Ministers meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin bade Sarkozy a florid farewell. Somewhat crisper, according to witnesses, Jacques Chirac saluted Sarkozy for his service in the government, for the past 'two and a half years.'

Then Sarkozy exited into Jacques' Elysée garden, and dived into a forest of audio booms and TV cameras before returning to Bercy to clean out his desk, suite of offices and taxpayer–paid living quarters.

Thus begins, I suspect, the end of the era of Nicolas. As a humble party leader little Nicolas will not be able to command the non–stop media attention that he seems so obviously to thrive on. Of course he can snipe at the presidnt and the government, but his own UMP party firmly holds the ruling majority. Criticizing it too much will be like spitting his own soup.


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