Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s new book, a mea culpa on errors while in office, was already a best-seller on the day of its official release on Monday.
On both Amazon France and French retailer FNAC, pre-orders of “La France pour la vie” (“France for life”) had pushed it into the No. 1 position. Sarkozy confesses to numerous errors in his book, including once telling a man at the Paris agricultural fair to “Get lost, you jerk” (“Casse-toi, pauv’ con”) – which would become a uniting call for his opponents.
“That was an act of stupidity that I regret to this day,” Sarkozy wrote. “It dragged down the dignity of the presidency.”
He also said he regretted celebrating his 2007 election win by working on his tan on a French tycoon’s luxury yacht, one of a series of high-profile mistakes that earned him the nickname of the “Bling-Bling President”.
“I thought, wrongly, that five days on a boat would help save my marriage,” he said, in reference to his relationship with ex-wife Cecilia. (They divorced in October that year). “It backfired. It became a personal and media-relations nightmare.”
“I’m still wondering today how I could make such a mistake,” he wrote, adding that it took him too long to “tame his character” and act in a presidential manner. “My character has always led me to be frank. But with age and experience, I have learned to temper that frankness.”
Sarkozy also laments his failure to reduce French employment taxes to bring them into line with European norms, while tackling France’s 35-hour workweek – measures now being considered by his Socialist rivals in a bid to boost the economy and reduce France’s 10.6 percent unemployment rate.
Another missed opportunity, he wrote, was a chance to abolish France’s wealth tax, along with introducing a 10 percent cut in income tax.
Sarkozy said he also regretted not fulfilling a 2007 election promise to create civil unions for gay couples – a position that drew fierce criticism from many in his conservative support base. (Gay marriage was legalised under Hollande in 2012).
“I have evolved on this point,” Sarkozy wrote.
Sarkozy does have some explaining to do. He is involved in a number of cases relating to financial indiscretions during his term in office. These include serious claims that in 2013 he used his influence to get information on an investigation into funding irregularities in his victorious 2007 election campaign.
But Sarkozy – who was also branded the “Hyper President” for the seemingly frenetic pace of his time in office – said one thing hadn’t changed for him: His love of work and relentless activity. “I can repeat with conviction that as human beings, we are created both to love and to work. Work sets you free.”
While the book may be an effort to set the record straight ahead of his Les Républicains (formerly the UMP) party’s November primaries to choose a candidate for the 2017 presidential race, Sarkozy has been careful not to seem over-confident.
“I’ve always said that [going for the nomination] isn’t automatic,” he told public broadcaster TF1 on Sunday. “I won’t do it if it isn’t useful [to the party].”
“It is human to make mistakes,” he added, saying that his book was something he owed to France, to “explain to the people” some of the difficulties he faced while in office.
If Sarkozy is truly aiming at a return to power, he has a hard battle ahead of him: He is suffering in recent opinion polls that show that a majority of French do not want him back in office.
Surveys also show rival Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, is more popular among conservatives as a candidate for the 2017 presidential election.