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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

It might not be easy understanding Bernadette Chirac...but

If you've been following French politics recently, it will surely not have escaped your notice that Bernadette Chirac has been making the headlines.

Bernadette Chirac (screenshot Europe 1 January 2014)

Her outspoken (and some would say "fervent") support for Nicolas Sarkozy in his campaign to become leader of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and possible run to be the party's candidate in the 2017 presidential elections has most probably both amused and bemused many French.

Especially as it has been accompanied by unapologetic salvoes fired at Alain Juppé, the man who would most likely present Sarkozy with the strongest challenge in the planned primary to choose the party's candidate for 2017 but of whom Bernadette said, "he's a very unwelcoming person. He doesn't win over people, friends and potential voters."

In a recent piece in Le Figaro entitled "Dans la tête de Bernadette Chirac" writer and journalist, Irina de Chikoff, gives some insight into the behaviour of France's former first lady.

And it certainly seems that Bernadette, wearing her trademark sunglasses whenever she's being interviewed, is far from being the cantankerous old lady set on saying and doing anything and everything to annoy her husband, Jacques Chirac, French president from 1995 to 2007 of course.

The time when Bernadette dutifully (and most often quietly) remained in the shadows of her husband is over and now she feels able to speak freely.

But it's not something that has happened overnight.

Instead, it's a process that began, by Bernadette's own admission,  back in 1997 when Chirac dissolved parliament a year before its term was up thinking the French would support him and return a majority allowing the re-appointment of Juppé as prime minister.

Chirac though had misread the electorate and it was a left-wing coalition of the Socialist party, Communists and Greens which obtained a majority, enabling Lionel Jospin to become prime minister and forcing five years of cohabitation or what Chirac described as "paralysis" as his political influence on domestic policy was "constrained" - to put it mildly.

"I was absolutely against the idea of dissolution and I told him," she admitted to Laurent Delahousse during a recent edition of "Un jour, un destin" on France 2, dedicated to France's former first lady.

Bernadette's  dislike and distrust of Juppé is as deep-rooted as her husband's admiration and support for the man he has described as "the best among us".

And her support for Sarkozy?

Well for Chikoff, it's not a case of Bernadette trying to annoy her husband.

Rather she sees in Sarkozy the same sort of energy and resilience Chirac once had.

"She holds no grudges against him (Sarkozy) - well almost none - for the times when he might have been politically disloyal to her husband," writes Chikoff.

"She would have liked to have had a son like Nicolas and that's why she's prepared to indulge any mother would."

So, if Sarkozy wins November's battle for the leadership of the UMP and decides to take a run for the party's primary, we can probably expect to here more - plenty more - from the lady behind the sunglasses.

Be prepared.

Bernadette Chirac se mobilise pour les... by Europe1fr

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