He’s a TV personality, writer, film-maker and gay activist who is not only an expert on monarchies but belongs to the closest thing the French republic has to a royal family: the Mitterrand clan.
And yesterday Frederic Mitterrand, nephew of the late socialist president Francois Mitterrand, was to add a new title to his list of honorifics by being appointed France’s new culture minister in a highly symbolic move by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The unashamedly right-wing French president has a strategy of poaching high-profile personalities from the left. Sarkozy’s “rainbow Cabinet” of all political colors, including left-wing Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, was always intended to wrongfoot his critics and weaken the moribund French left.
However, the appointment of a Mitterrand in the mid-term government reshuffle that was to be announced yesterday morning is seen as the ultimate prize — it is as close as Sarkozy can get to the respected socialist president and idol of the left.
Frederic Mitterrand, 61, who has written scores of books and directed several films, could also bolster Sarkozy’s latest efforts to counter charges that he is France’s first philistine president and prefers jogging to the arts.
Unlike the enigmatic, bookish Francois Mitterrand, president from 1981 to 1995, Sarkozy is better known for enjoying US thrillers on DVD, indulging in cheesy French Elvis impersonators and deriding 17th-century French literature.
This image has been tempered since Sarkozy married the model-turned-folk singer Carla Bruni. The couple now make highly publicized trips to the theater and hold private meetings with arts and film figures such as Woody Allen.
Mitterrand has spent the past eight months as head of the Villa Medicis French cultural academy in Rome, one of the most prestigious French cultural institutions abroad.
He was appointed last September after outrage in the arts world that Sarkozy was going to parachute one of his former advisers into the job. Italian-born Bruni was said to have helped persuade her husband of the importance of a fair appointment.
Mitterrand’s father, an engineer, was the late president’s brother. A former teacher and devout film fan, Mitterrand ran cinemas in Paris before reinventing himself as a TV presenter, producer and director in the 1980s and 1990s.
He was famous for his arts and history programs and commenting on royal events. A campaigner for gay rights, he also presented a show on France’s first gay cable channel, Pink TV.
Hard to pin down politically, he supported his uncle and was part of former president Mitterrand’s inner circle, but he didn’t join his Socialist party and backed the center-right Jacques Chirac for president in 1995.
Mitterrand’s appointment was not supposed to be announced until the reshuffle yesterday morning, but after leaks from his leaving party in Rome, he confirmed the story himself, telling TV reporters that the culture ministry was “an exciting task and an honor.”
Asked if he still considered himself on the left, he said: “When Francois Mitterrand didn’t want to answer a question, he didn’t. I’m the same.”
The culture minister’s job is seen as a poisoned chalice. His first headache will be the hardline law to clamp down on illegal music and film downloading by cutting off repeat offenders’ Internet access — Sarkozy’s pet project. Mitterrand’s brief also includes the media, a difficult issue in France, where Sarkozy has been accused of trying to tighten state control of public TV and the troubled press is engaged in a government-led drive to reform.