Sarkozy’s personality in focus as France takes EU presidencyJune 28th, 2008 - 10:05 am ICT by IANS
By Siegfried Mortkowitz
Paris, June 28 (DPA) For six months, as it struggles with yet another institutional crisis, the European Union (EU) wiill be led by a man who inspires at least as much uneasiness as confidence: French President Nicolas Sarkozy. France takes over the EU presidency July 1, and Sarkozy will be the union’s pointman as it wrestles with the fallout from the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty while looking to make progress on several vital issues, such as immigration and the environment.
Sarkozy has in the past ruffled more than a few feathers in Brussels and other capitals with his propensity for acting on his own, putting ego before prudence and teamwork.
Diplomats may therefore be asking themselves if he is the right man to take the helm of the Union in such stormy times.
From one angle, Sarkozy is the perfect man for the job. No other European leader so delights in matching himself against a crisis as does the 53-year-old son of Hungarian immigrants.
In 1993, when Sarkozy was mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly, a man calling himself the Human Bomb took 21 schoolchildren hostage in the town, threatening to blow everyone up.
While government and police officials were debating strategy, Sarkozy drove to the school and negotiated personally with the hostage-taker, even offering to exchange himself for the children.
The Human Bomb man refused the offer, but Sarkozy managed to persuade him into releasing some of the children, just hours before police shot the man dead.
That incident revealed several aspects of his political personality that have not changed over the years - his love of risk-taking, his affinity for the spotlight and his boundless self-confidence.
The confidence in his own ability has so grown over the years that it occasionally - his detractors would say always - blinds him to other approaches to problem-solving.
He provided a clue to that thinking the day after the results of the Irish referendum were announced, when he told journalists in Paris that “we must change the way we are (constructing Europe)”.
This was another way of saying: “You’ve been doing it wrong. Now we must do it my way.”
In a book called “Temoignage” (Testimony), Sarkozy said, “I work so hard because, contrary to the idea that people may have of me, I have a lot of doubts”.
Based on his behaviour as French president, these doubts apply not to himself but to his collaborators, for Sarkozy has his hands on nearly every aspect of French governance, to such an extent that his prime minister, Francois Fillon, has been caricatured as his errand boy.
Sarkozy’s personality, which is radically different from those of his predecessors, continues to fascinate the French, and the Europeans, as much as it mystifies them.
To provide clues to Sarkozy’s behaviour, the weekly Le Point dedicated an issue to having several psychoanalysts analyse him.
One of the analysts, Philippe Grimbert, described Sarkozy as an adolescent, “someone who has remained in the fantasy of being all-powerful typical of that age”.
“Like all adolescents, Sarkozy seems to be permanently in revolt,” Grimbert wrote. “He does whatever he wants, takes decisions alone and is at war with his ‘fathers’.”
Sarkozy’s language and behaviour are almost typically adolescent, Grimbert suggests, including his habit of what he calls “risky driving, characteristic of that age”. The problem is that he is president, he warned, “and we are all in the car with him”.
But perhaps the most acute description of Nicolas Sarkozy was written nearly 140 years ago, in Russia.
In his novel War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy described a man to whom “only what went on in his soul was of interest. Everything that was outside him had no meaning for him, because everything in the world, as it seemed to him, depended only upon his will”.
Often, in conversation, this man spoke “with that eloquence and unrestrained irritation to which spoiled people are so greatly inclined”.
And it was this man’s “long-standing conviction that the possibility of mistakes did not exist for him, and to his mind everything he did was good, not because it agreed with any notion of what was good and bad, but because he did it”.
This man, of course, was Napoleon, and his great aim was to conquer Europe. In a way, that is also Sarkozy’s goal, to conquer the EU by saving it single-handedly, not through arms but with his energy and ideas.