The Irish Times view on Nicolas Sarkozy’s conviction: sentenced and shamed

Flood of sympathetic and uncritical messages to Sarkozy from the right

It was not a trivial technical breach of electoral rules. Nicolas Sarkozy, while in office, spent at least €42.8 million in his unsuccessful attempt to defeat Francois Hollande for the presidency in 2012. Despite warnings from campaign accountants that he was breaching level-playing-field rules, Sarkozy pressed ahead with mega-stadium rallies to spend close to twice the legally prescribed presidential campaign spending cap of €22.5 million.

Last Thursday the 66-year-old received a one-year sentence for knowingly exceeding spending limits. He can serve it under house arrest with an electronic bracelet. Thirteen people involved in the campaign were also convicted for more serious related offences including falsifying invoices to hide the real cost of the campaign. Unrepentant, unashamed and insisting he is being politically persecuted, Sarkozy is still actively engaged in public life, giving interviews and publishing books.

He remains a darling of the right. And yet the former president is in the unprecedented situation of having received two custodial sentences,while other serious charges still loom.

In March, he became France’s first postwar president to be handed a custodial sentence when he got a three-year jail term, two suspended, for corruption and influence peddling over attempts to secure favours from a judge. Potentially most serious of all is the ongoing inquiry into allegations he secretly received some €50 million from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafy for his successful 2007 election campaign.


Remarkably, last Thursday's verdict has been met by a flood of sympathetic and uncritical messages to Sarkozy from the conservative right, not least from Michel Barnier, angling for his endorsement in next year's presidential election. Their apparent willingness to turn a blind eye to breathtaking breaches of electoral law and the rule of law is a stain on French democracy. But the court's decision is an important turning of the page on its past reluctance to hold senior politicians to account. Times are changing.