The Irish Times view on Nicolas Sarkozy’s criminal conviction

Final political eclipsing for former president who has admitted he will not run again next year

France's voters gave their verdict on former president Nicolas Sarkozy long before last Monday's criminal court ruling. Emanuel Macron's presidency and the triumph of a supposedly "new politics" over France's establishment parties of right and left was a backlash which had as much to do with weariness at their arrogance, corruption and self-dealing, as it had to do with the rise of populism.

And so the humiliating sentencing of Sarkozy to three years in jail – two of them suspended – for bribery and influence-peddling in promising to promote a judge in return for information on an investigation, largely marks a postcriptum to the “Sarko” era and a final political eclipsing of the man who has at last admitted he will not run again next year.

No doubt some remembered that it was the same president who once mocked magistrates as indistinguishable peas in a pod

He will appeal the decision, possibly to the the European Court of Human Rights, and he continues to describe it as a politically inspired miscarriage. But he also faces further court hearings later this month on alleged overspending during his 2012 re-election campaign. And Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential campaign is still the focus of ongoing investigations involving allegations of illicit Libyan funding.

Landmark moment

Although Jacques Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzling public funds when he was Paris mayor, no former president had been sentenced to an actual prison sentence since France's collaborationist leader Marshal Pétain in 1945. But this is also a landmark moment for the French Fifth Republic which vests so much power – and little accountability – in what has been described as a "republican monarch". And it is by no means a flash in the pan for the political class – 2017 right-wing candidate for the presidency Francois Fillon and former socialist budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac were both convicted in recent years for financial misbehaviour. As were Sarkozy's former political mentor Charles Pasqua and former chief of staff Michel Gaudin.


Some hope the trials will herald a change of political culture in France but it has also provoked an outpouring of anger on the right at what is seen as a political judiciary – judges who have been angered at what they see as an impermissible erosion by the executive of their independence. No doubt some remembered that it was the same president who once mocked magistrates as indistinguishable peas in a pod.

Reflecting on the political implications, Le Monde has argued that Sarkozy “paid the price” for whipping up hostility towards the judiciary, particularly the financial prosecutor’s office (PNF) which led the case, “every time he is in a tight corner”. It urged the former president to refrain from further escalating what “has become not only a trap for him but also a danger for the country”.