In releasing the second instalment of his memoirs, The Presidential Time, former French president Jacques Chirac has reignited a long-time feud with fellow right-winger and current president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. While initially touting Sarkozy as the most gifted politician of his generation, Chirac—who held the presidency for two terms before Sarkozy entered office in 2007—proceeds to slam the man he has frequently referred to as “the Traitor,” describing him as “nervous, impetuous, overflowing with ambition, doubting nothing, least of all himself.”
Though they both belong to the UMP party, the bad blood goes back to the 1995 presidential election, when Sarkozy, Chirac’s then-protege, abandoned his mentor in favour of another conservative candidate. Chirac went on to win, while the famously pugilistic Sarkozy took on the more expressive role in their unfolding rivalry, among other things poking fun of Chirac’s renowned love of sumo wrestling. Chirac mostly remained silent. But four years out of the Élysée Palace and just 11 months before the next election—and while Sarkozy’s dismal approval ratings hover around 34 per cent—Chirac apparently deemed the time ripe for revenge.
He casts Sarkozy as a divisive figure prone to exacerbating tensions, referring to the president’s controversial policies that have unleashed multiple street protests throughout his tenure, most recently his expulsion of the Roma from France. But in an interview with Le Figaro, Chirac denied his words were an attack. Instead, he described his present relationship with Sarkozy as honest and cordial. Classic Chirac—his career flip-flopping earned him the nicknames “Chameleon Bonaparte” and “la Girouette” (the Weather Vane).
In a subtler Sarkozy jab, Chirac praises François Hollande—a top critic of Chirac throughout his presidency and now a contender to lead the Socialist Party. Chirac writes that Hollande is a “true statesman,” then followed up his compliment last week in a televised interview claiming he would vote for Hollande if his friend, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, didn’t run. One day later, Chirac took it all back, saying it was just a joke. Not so funny for Sarkozy—the Socialists trounced his party in the March regional elections.
But taunting Sarkozy comprises only a small portion of the 624-page tome. It mostly covers foreign policy: referring to the 2003 Iraq war, which he notoriously opposed, Chirac writes he was “disappointed and indignant” with Tony Blair’s unwavering support of the U.S. Blair, he predicts, will be “burdened with a heavy responsibility in the eyes of history.” But he expresses a soft spot for fellow philanderer Bill Clinton, whom he apparently phoned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, concerned he would “take his own life out of despair.”
One politician who escapes the literary crosshairs is Chirac himself, despite his upcoming trial for abuse of public funds stemming from his 18 years as mayor of Paris. Though his low approval ratings while in office mirror Sarkozy’s, Chirac is enjoying new-found popularity. He was recently voted the most admired politician in France. In the same poll, Sarkozy came in 32nd.