11.25.19

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Understanding Thierry Breton: Thierry & Nicolas – a Bromance That Turned Sour?

Posted in Europe, Finance at 10:22 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Overview

Understanding Thierry Breton

Further parts pending review and research


Sarkozy and Breton
Thierry and Nicolas: despite a promising start, the bromance turned sour in the end.

Summary: “Whatever Sarkozy’s motives may have been, he decided to dispense with the services of his former colleague and so Breton’s ministerial career came to an abrupt end in the summer of 2007.”

Thierry and Nicolas go back a long way to the days when they were ministerial colleagues under the presidency of Jacques Chirac between 2002 and 2007.

“Sarko”, or Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa, to give him his full name, joined the Chirac government in 2002 where he served as Minister for the Interior.

Thierry joined the cabinet as Minister for the Economy a few years later in February 2005. He replaced Hervé Gaymard who was forced to resign after the satirical investigative newspaper Le Canard enchaîné disclosed that he was using public money to fund the cost of an exclusive Parisien apartment for his family.

Sarkozy and Breton with group
President Jacques Chirac with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and his cabinet, including Sarkozy and Breton in the front row

In 2004, Sarkozy began to position himself as a contender to succeed Chirac and he was successful in securing election as leader of the UMP, the French conservative party.

He moved to the Ministry for the Economy for a short stint between 2004 and 2005 and then returned to his former post at the Ministry for the Interior where he remained until he stepped down in March 2007 to focus on his election campaign to become President of the Republic.

Sarkozy faces
“Sarko”, Minister for Silly Faces who became President in 2007.

It would appear that Thierry and Nicolas enjoyed cordial collegial relations at the cabinet table. Many photos from that time show them having a good laugh in each other’s company.

There were signs that a Gallic bromance was beginning to blossom between the two poster-boys of the UMP’s ultra-liberal wing. But appearances can be deceptive especially in the ultra-Machiavellian world of French politics.

Sarkozy and Breton as pair
Colleagues at the cabinet table (2005): Thierry Breton (Minister for the Economy), Nicolas Sarkozy (Minister for the Interior) and President Jacques Chirac

Sarkozy and Breton with Chirac
Thierry and Nikolas having a cordial collegial tête-à-tête.
Uncle Jacques looks on with a furrowed brow.
“What are those little rascals up to this time?”

Sarkozy and Breton trio
Thierry and Nikolas enjoying a good chortle together with their ministerial colleagues.
Who are they planning to shaft this time?

Sarkozy with Breton behind
Catch-me-if-you-can.
Nikolas plays hard-to-get
with Thierry in hot pursuit.

A photo of the duo taken on the margins of the Armistice Day Ceremony against the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe in 2005 contains a premonition of things to come. Maybe it was just the November weather, but Nicolas has a distinctly frosty countenance and his attitude towards his cabinet colleague seems to be on the chilly side.

Sarkozy, Breton in Paris
Thierry and Nicolas at the Armistice Day Ceremony in Paris (11 November 2005).
Early signs of a chill in the relationship?

Sarkozy’s presidential ambitions had become clear from around 2004 onwards. This led to increasing tensions between the ambitious acolyte and his former mentor, Chirac, the elder statesman of the UMP party. Breton opted to maintain his personal loyalty to Chirac and this seems to have led to a growing alienation from Sarkozy despite their ideological closeness.

“Breton opted to maintain his personal loyalty to Chirac and this seems to have led to a growing alienation from Sarkozy despite their ideological closeness.”However, Breton did not permit the cracks in the personal relationship to become visible to the public eye. In January 2007 when the UMP elected Sarkozy as the party’s candidate for the presidential election later that year, he rose to the occasion and delivered an endorsement speech during the official investiture held in Paris.

UMP Breton
Breton giving an endorsement speech for UMP presidential candidate Sarkozy during the official investiture in Paris (January 2007)

He accompanied Sarkozy on the election campaign trail and appeared as a supportive colleague in the usual photo-ops, for example, at an educational center in the town of Joue-les-Tours in April 2007.

UMP, Sarkozy and Breton
UMP presidential candidate Sarkozy accompanied by Breton during a visit to an educational centre in Joue-les-Tours (April 2007)

Sarkozy’s provocative public utterances as Minister for the Interior, such as his description of urban rioters as “scum”, “riff-raff” and “hoodlums”, led to him being dubbed the “candidate for brutality” by his critics who warned that his election as President would polarise French society. But his tough language and hardline poses made a positive impression among certain sections of the electorate and he soon gained the pole position.

Throughout the later campaign period he remained consistently ahead of his main rival, the Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal, and it came as no surprise when he emerged as the winner in the final round of the electoral contest in May 2007.

“Breton’s close personal loyalty to Chirac made him “unreliable” in Sarkozy’s eyes.”Chirac recommended to Sarkozy that he keep Breton in his post as Minister for the Economy. But the President-elect was very much his own man and he decided not to follow the advice of his erstwhile mentor.

Breton’s close personal loyalty to Chirac made him “unreliable” in Sarkozy’s eyes. Another factor which counted against him was the perception that his political credibility was on the line because of the EADS insider trading scandal.

Noël Forgerard’s “golden parachute” had become a prominent topic of public discussion during the 2007 presidential election campaign and Breton’s involvement in this saga raised a number of awkward questions for the UMP.

Whatever Sarkozy’s motives may have been, he decided to dispense with the services of his former colleague and so Breton’s ministerial career came to an abrupt end in the summer of 2007.

“Whatever Sarkozy’s motives may have been, he decided to dispense with the services of his former colleague and so Breton’s ministerial career came to an abrupt end in the summer of 2007.”But even after his official departure from the political parquet, Breton continued to play a significant behind-the-scenes role, for example by advising François Baroin when the latter was Minister of the Budget in 2010-2011.

They say that revenge is a dish best eaten cold and this is a view that Thierry seems to subscribe to. He waited almost a decade before settling accounts with Nicolas for having snubbed him in 2007.

In 2016 when Sarkozy published a book reviewing his term of office as President between 2007 and 2012, Breton went public with an excoriating indictment of Sarkozy’s lack of economic rigour and his incompetent management of the financial crisis which occurred on his watch.

“In the next part we will look at Breton’s close connections with another prominent French political figure, the “killer-shark” Christine Lagarde, former head of the IMF and now Director of the European Central Bank.”In particular, Breton criticised the explosion in the French national debt during Sarkozy’s term of office:

“We had a crisis management between 2007 and 2012 that was one of the worst of all European countries. France’s debt has been increased by €600 billion. We fell way behind Germany.”

In the next part we will look at Breton’s close connections with another prominent French political figure, the “killer-shark” Christine Lagarde, former head of the IMF and now Director of the European Central Bank.

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