Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy speaks in Saint Maurice, outside Paris, 19 April 2012 Nicolas Sarkozy proved a divisive figure in office and the economic crisis eroded his support

Nicolas Sarkozy became France's first president not to be re-elected for a second term since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981. But, unlike him, he was on course to return to the political fray before judges placed him under formal investigation.

He was widely expected to reclaim the leadership of the opposition centre right in autumn 2014 with a view to challenging again for the presidency in 2017. His ambitions may be thwarted by inquiries that have their roots in the funding of his successful 2007 election campaign.

A veteran conservative politician, Nicolas Sarkozy, 59, angered human rights activists with his immigration policies and upset traditionalists with his flamboyant private life.

In the final days of his presidency, his description of himself as "the captain of a boat in the heart of a storm" seemed to sit badly with a surge in jobless claims to their highest level in 12 years.

Yet he had been at the forefront of the European response to the global economic crisis in 2008 and helped establish the G20 summits involving the world's biggest economies.

He also saw through unpopular, but arguably necessary, reforms: raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, relaxing the 35-hour working week, overhauling the universities and altering the tax system to encourage overtime and home ownership.

Political fighter

It was as a highly combative interior minister and leader of the ruling UMP that Mr Sarkozy made his name in national politics.

He sharply divided opinion in France, not least by adopting a tough stance on immigration.

Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to police and firemen in Cergy after rioting in November 2005 Violence spread through the Paris suburbs and several other cities while Mr Sarkozy was interior minister

He notoriously talked of hosing down troubled housing estates, describing young delinquents in the Paris suburbs as racaille, or rabble.

That blunt comment - made before the 2005 riots - encouraged some critics to put him in the same category as the then far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

As president he pushed through measures to curb illegal immigration - including highly controversial mass deportations of Roma (Gypsies).

At the same time, he advocated positive discrimination to help reduce youth unemployment - a challenge to those wedded to the French idea of equality.

On the international stage, Mr Sarkozy was often described as an Atlanticist, though he opposed the war in Iraq.

In March 2011, France was first to send warplanes into action against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya, spearheading the foreign intervention that enabled the Libyan rebels to succeed.

He was credited with brokering an end to the August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, and his performance while holding the six-month EU rotating presidency is remembered as assertive.

In response to the global financial crisis of 2008, he vowed to punish speculators and advocated a strong state role in the economy.

Leading the European Union response, he developed a close working relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Immigrant roots

Unlike most of the French ruling class, Mr Sarkozy did not go to the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, but trained as a lawyer.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother of Greek-Jewish origin, he was baptised a Roman Catholic and grew up in Paris.

He began his political career as mayor of the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly from 1983 to 2002.

National attention came in 1993, when he personally intervened to free infants held hostage by a deranged man in a kindergarten, who was later killed by police commandos.

Initially a protege of Jacques Chirac, he became the right-hand man of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur in 1993-95, serving as budget minister.

When he backed Mr Balladur for the presidency in 1995, the decision caused a lasting rift with Mr Chirac, the successful candidate.

Mr Chirac famously chided him in his memoirs for being "irritable, rash, overconfident and allowing for no doubt, least of all regarding himself".

Life with Carla
Carla Bruni with Nicolas Sarkozy on a state visit to London in 2008 His relationship with Carla Bruni was the main media focus after he took power
Carla Bruni on stage in Moscow (June 2014) Since Mr Sarkozy's fall from power, Carla Bruni's career as a singer has continued

Mr Sarkozy, who is twice divorced, has a daughter with his current wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni, as well as a son from his second marriage and two sons from his first marriage.

Revealing a personal side in a pre-election interview, Mr Sarkozy said: "Divorce is painful. It is a rupture. And often it is the children who pay the bill."

His romance with Carla Bruni grabbed the headlines when he became president in 2007. For a time the media appeared more interested in his love life than the issues facing the country.

Such publicity was a departure from the French tradition of presidential privacy.

Yet when Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy gave birth to baby Giulia the pregnancy was kept well away from the media glare, in an apparent return to the traditional, monarchical style of the French presidency.

Despite his achievements in office, Mr Sarkozy suffered painfully low popularity ratings.

Next steps

After his defeat by Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, Mr Sarkozy relinquished control of the UMP party. Although it was taken over by close ally Jean-Francois Cope, his leadership was brought to an end by campaign funding allegations and a poor showing in the 2014 European elections.

Opinion polls indicate support for Mr Sarkozy's return to French politics but his fate could rest with the anti-corruption team in Nanterre who placed him under formal investigation on suspicion of trying to influence senior judges.

He has been under formal investigation before and the inquiry was dropped. But his 15-hour stay in policy custody on 1 July 2014 was unprecedented for an ex-president in France. His supporters openly accuse his political opponents of trying to sabotage his return to the political mainstream.

After his departure from the Elysee palace, he never entirely left, saying in March 2013 that he might have to return out of duty to France.

"There will unfortunately come a time when the question will no longer be 'Do you want to?' but 'Do you have the choice?'" he said.

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