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Nepotism French Style: Le Système Sarkozy?

11:59 AM, Oct 14, 2009 • By ULF GARTZKE
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In case you haven't heard, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has come under tremendous criticism back home as news emerged over the weekend that his 23-year-old son Jean is set to become head of the public development agency running La Défense, one of Europe's biggest business districts located on the outskirts of Paris. Leading French opposition figures have already decried the nomination of Jean Sarkozy as blatant nepotism, arguing very convincingly that "Prince Jean" -- currently a second-year Sorbonne law student who won a seat as town councilor in his father's Neuilly political fiefdom just two years ago -- clearly lacks the qualifications and experience to run an agency with a $1.5 billion annual budget.

Although there is no evidence that the president had a hand in his son's surprise nomination, this whole affair makes the top leader of the liberté, égalité, fraternité country look very bad. Back in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was running as a kind of maverick anti-establishment candidate, someone who promised to restore economic growth by rewarding individual performance and who would do away with his conservative predecessor's sleazy système Chirac, where political cronies were given plum jobs in the government bureaucracy as well as France's state-dominated economy (of course, before Chirac, Socialist President Mitterrand had his own système, and so forth). Since Nicolas Sarkozy has not publicly responded to the nepotism accusations, it was his close ally Patrick Devedjian, government minister and current overseer of the La Défense development agency, who defended the nomination of his boss's son by citing Corneille, a 17th French century dramaturgist: "For souls nobly born, valor does not await the passing of years." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.