Today, May 15, 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy made his final handover to French president François Hollande.
RMC and BFMTV reporters at the Elysée Palace said there was a definite chill in the air. They weren’t talking about the parky temperatures, either. Hollande violated protocol by turning his back on Sarkozy and his wife Carla, not even waiting until they got in the car to be driven to their Paris home.
In another break with tradition, television cameras did not show Sarkozy’s car leave the Palace to the cheers of hundreds of UMP supporters lining the street.
On May 16, the Sarkozys are reportedly going on holiday to Carla’s house at Cap Nègre in the Var. The outgoing president told reporters on May 8 that he would have been there much sooner if it hadn’t been for handover commitments.
It was cool and rainy in Paris today. After turning his back on Sarkozy, Hollande listened to a band play some very dated turn-of-the-20th-century folk music (which perplexed reporters as it was his choice), then to La Marseillaise before having an apéritif with his supporters from the Socialist Party, including ministers from the Mitterand era and the Chirac-Jospin cohabitation.
From there it was off to the Arc de Triomphe where he paid his respects to the Unknown Soldier. Hollande and partner journalist Valérie Trierweiler rode in a brand new environmentally-friendly Citroën DS5 hybrid. It is a soft-top, which Hollande requested be down for the ride. By the time they reached the Arc de Triomphe, he was soaking wet. Even RMC’s admiring commentators said that it was a poor image for a head of state. On the way back, the top went up, although the new president’s suit was still visibly damp when he arrived back at the Elysée, where he began to look more relaxed. No word on whether he changed into another set of clothes.
The three-course inaugural lunch featured a starter of langoustines, followed by rare-breed roast beef and concluded with a fruit mascarpone ice cream and macarons. True to form, Hollande had been running somewhat late all day. His son, Thomas, said that Hollande has a peculiar concept of punctuality. He likes to arrive at a destination right on time — never beforehand — whether it’s an airport, cinema or social occasion. His advisors in Corrèze said he was invariably late for official engagements.
Two things still rankle conservative Frenchmen about election night on May 6: the bevy of foreign flags where Hollande made his acceptance speech at La Bastille and the private jets hired to take him from Tulle (Corrèze) to Paris that night. Some reports say it was one jet, others two and still others say it was three.
The reason the jets rankle is that everyone in France knows there was no let-up on Sarkozy’s 2007 victory dinner at Fouquet’s, held on election night before he was sworn into office. We never found out exactly who paid for the evening, although conservatives say it was a group of wealthy industrialist supporters. Others say it was Sarkozy’s political party, the UMP. If it was the UMP — and I suspect that journalists know the truth (which is probably that the industrialists footed the bill) — the Socialist response has been: ‘Don’t forget that taxpayers subsidise all political parties’.
Hold that thought, because about the private jets they said, ‘The PS paid’. This brings us conveniently back to their own argument against Sarkozy: ‘Don’t forget that taxpayers subsidise all political parties’.
So, the taxpayer could easily have paid tens of thousands of euros for Hollande’s rather extravagant trip to Paris’s Le Bourget airport, as well as for the limousine with blacked-out windows and the security detail in the motorcade to whisk him and his partner from Le Bourget to La Bastille, some miles away.
As most of the world knew for weeks that he was substantially ahead in the polls, wouldn’t it have made more financial sense for him to be in Paris on election night regardless? Oh, sorry, we forget that François Hollande doesn’t like to be anywhere before time. So that’s okay — the taxpayer can fork out for these little foibles that cost who knows how much.
Now a third bone of contention has come to light: Hollande has made it clear he would like to continue living in his flat in the 15th arrondissement and not at the Elysée in the 8th (see map here to note the distance between the two).
Hollande says that he just wants to be a ‘normal’ president. He’s happy in the 15th. He knows the area and the shopkeepers; he and Valérie feel comfortable there.
Many outraged online commenters have asked: who will be paying for the security detail every day? And what about the inconvenience not only to other residents in the building and the neighbourhood but also to those living between the flat and the Palace?
Hollande might want to continue to live a normal life, but, as any fule kno, being a head of state is far from a normal occupation. None of the French presidents from the 5th Republic have enjoyed staying at the Elysée. Sarkozy only spent a few nights a week there; the rest of the time was at a residence that he and Carla shared. (Accounts differ as to whether this was in the 8th or the 16th arrondissement and who owns it; some say it was Carla’s.) Going further back, Chirac, Mitterand, Giscard d’Estaing, Pompidou and De Gaulle all disliked it. However, they were told they would be expected to live there part of the time. It was simply impractical otherwise.
An interesting fact about the Elysée is that President Félix Faure died there unexpectedly after sexual congress with a prostitute. The story goes that one of the staff asked another, ‘Did you see who it was?’ The reply came: ‘They left by the service entrance’.
Well, I wouldn’t mind living at the Elysée: great decor as well as the best food and wine in the country. However, along with many French people, I agree that anyone who runs for president and is duly elected should expect to live there. Furthermore, in keeping with tradition, Ms Trierweiler will be able to decorate François le Normal’s office and other private rooms in a style with which they will both feel comfortable.
Who knows? If Hollande’s government becomes ‘normal’ enough, maybe they can entertain visiting heads of state at McDonald’s.