TOPICS: Sarkozy’s big sell-off

Agnes Poirier

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is a professional. Vanity Fair’s September cover story proves it once more. The “first lady fatale”, as she’s introduced, can do everything: the seductress, languid in pyjamas opposite her husband on a regalian bed; the cavaliere, her long booted legs hanging elegantly from a grand siecle banquette; the lady du soir, in a red evening gown on the roof of the presidential palace; the femme fatale in a trenchcoat, and the gamine in jeans and ballerina shoes caressing the keys of a baby grand. Throughout, her demure half-smile conceals an unbending focus on the job of promoting her latest album.

The photographer, Annie Leibovitz, is a professional too. Her compositions show an attention to detail and a commitment to the task: to construct a legend that publicists desperately need the French and the world to believe in. Carla, the new Jackie — although it’s not made clear if we’re talking Kennedy or Onassis incarnation. Vanity Fair’s accompanying profile has 12 sources: two anonymous, her agent, two designers she has modelled for, and seven close friends of President Sarkozy.

But perhaps a little traitement de faveur was de rigueur now that Nicolas Sarkozy, has allowed the Elysee palace to be used for a commercial photoshoot. The president is the one who is not being professional. Sarkozy should have known better than to put the Elysee palace and France’s national symbols up for hire. He may be authorised to live at the Elysee, but he doesn’t own it. Sarkozy should have asked his landlords, the French, their permission to use France’s political heart as a backdrop to increase his rock-chick wife’s CD sales.

Imagine Mick Jagger, as a former flame of the Queen’s sister, photographed with the crown jewels on his head, half-reclined on the throne at Windsor, with an admiring Queen standing by. All to promote his latest album.

More importantly, what this new and apparently frivolous episode shows is how Sarkozy is little by little privatising democratic power itself. Take the latest scandal: the flamboyant entrepreneur and former politician Bernard Tapie, a close friend of Sarkozy who has been fighting a legal battle against the Credit Lyonnais bank for more than a decade, finally won his case last month after a tribunal overturned a ruling by the high court.

When Sarkozy announced that he would personally appoint the new head of public television, along with the new director of the public radio networks, there was no outcry. Instead, when his wife gave each of the 38 members of the government her album, dedicated with “1000 kisses”, as they left their last weekly brief at the Elysee palace before their holidays, the ministers told journalists: “Go and buy it, it’s fantastic.”

When national symbols become commodities, ministers courtesans and journalists lackeys, it isn’t time to act “as if nothing had happened”, as Bruni keeps panting in our ears. It’s time to face the music and sing: au revoir democracy, bonjour ancien regime.