Wed, Oct 14, 2009 - Page 6 News List

French president’s son ignites uproar over plum job bid


He’s 23 and has no college degree, and he’s angling for a plum job overseeing France’s premier business district. Jean Sarkozy, whose papa is the nation’s president, is likely to get what he wants.

Outraged critics are crying nepotism and say the brash bid by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son is an affront to France’s egalitarian values. Leftists are decrying the prospect of the wealthy “Sarkozy clan” intertwining itself even more intimately with the realm of big business.

Jean Sarkozy’s conservative backers said on Monday that he’s qualified to chair EPAD, the quasi-governmental agency that manages the La Defense financial district on the western outskirts of Paris.

About 150,000 people commute to work in the sprawling complex of skyscrapers that houses the headquarters of some of Europe’s biggest companies, such as oil giant Total and bank Societe Generale.

Sarkozy, whose sound bites, expansive mannerisms and on-the-stump charm recall those of his dad, is studying law at the Sorbonne. He is also the main candidate for the EPAD chairmanship. It’s a job Nicolas Sarkozy once held himself.

“If he did not have the name he has, would he be where he is today?” asked Socialist Segolene Royal, who lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 elections for the French presidency.

Speaking on RTL radio, she said she was “shocked” by the bid.

Socialist lawmaker Arnaud Montebourg lamented that there was “no longer any limit, anything is allowed, there are no more principles, no more rules.”

Plenty of voters are aghast, too. More than 31,000 people had added their names to an online “petition” as of Monday evening urging Jean Sarkozy to drop his designs on the job.

“Presiding [over] such an institution requires competence and experience,” reads the appeal, launched by Christophe Grebert, a centrist politician from a neighboring town, Puteaux. “We urge you to finish your law studies and do a few internships in companies ... before, perhaps, one day, who knows, rebidding for this job.”

It’s an unusual post, highly visible yet largely symbolic. The 18 members of EPAD’s board are volunteers who give the final “yes” or “no” to investors who want building permits or administrative favors in La Defense. The only job requirement is being a member of federal or local government.

In addition to studying law, Jean Sarkozy was elected last year to a regional council representing part of the Paris suburb of Neuilly, where his father served as mayor for 19 years and launched his political career.

Responding to the attacks about his candidacy, Jean Sarkozy said that whatever he accomplishes in life, “my legitimacy will always be on trial.” Asked by Le Parisien newspaper if he had talked with his father about his plans, he said: “Of course, I informed those who are close to me, that’s normal. That said, I’m following my own path.”

While elected officials in France often hold multiple jobs, it’s quite rare for a politician to be elected while still in school.

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