The poisonous memoirs of a right-wing adviser at the Elysee Palace are proving deeply embarrassing for ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, just as he gathers strength for a planned presidential comeback.
With delicious timing, Patrick Buisson – the man credited with inspiring his former boss’s rightward shift on issues like national identity – has released a book of recollections concerning the seven years he served as his top aide.
To no-one’s surprise, given the way the pair parted company after Mr Sarkozy lost the presidency in 2012, it drips with the satisfaction of a finally requited revenge.
I have known some acts of treachery in my time… but rarely like this”
Nicolas Sarkozy, 21 september 2014
In one passage, Mr Buisson claims that Nicolas Sarkozy deliberately allowed rioters from the suburbs to rampage in central Paris, the better to show off his capacity to restore order.
It was in 2006, when Mr Sarkozy was at the interior ministry and his rival, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, was pushing through a labour reform hotly contested by French youth.
Mr Buisson quotes Mr Sarkozy as recalling: “We took the decision to allow gangs of blacks and Arabs to attack the young whites on the Invalides, and at the same time tipped off the photographers at Paris Match that there was likely to be serious trouble.
“We were petrified that someone might end up getting seriously hurt, but in the end it was worth it.”
At the demonstration that followed, police intervened early and Mr Sarkozy was on hand for the television cameras, “proving how much he was in control of the situation compared with the prime minister”, writes Mr Buisson.
The former adviser is scathing about Mr Sarkozy’s “narcissistic” personality, and says his public courtship and marriage to “trophy woman” Carla Bruni was an excruciating embarrassment.
“Probably he thought deep down that the happy news of his love life would be a useful antidote to the prevailing gloom. Instead [the reaction] could be summed up in three words: immature, undignified, infantile.”
He is also unsparing of Carla Bruni herself, who he says “did deep harm to [the Sarkozy] presidency”.
“The head of state… was in reality a fragile seducer subjugated by his conquests, a fake tough guy submerged in a permanent state of emotional dependency.”
In politics, Mr Buisson says Nicolas Sarkozy was always words rather than action, that he lacked guiding principles and was more interested in the short-term buzz of media approval.
“The public man… was always constrained by the private man, by his passions, his confusions, his weakness for whatever was in vogue.”
The book reveals that the aspiring president was in contact with far-right National Front (FN) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen between the two rounds of the 2007 election, which he won, in the hope of winning FN votes for round two.
And in 2005 Mr Buisson quotes him as saying: “The values of the far right are the values of all the French. It’s just the way the FN puts them that is shocking. The French do not like over-spicy food.”
Now fully engaged in November’s primary to choose the centre-right’s presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy has dismissed Mr Buisson’s book as unworthy of notice.
The two men fell out after the former president’s 2012 election defeat by Francois Hollande.
Two years later it was revealed that throughout the Sarkozy presidency Mr Buisson had been secretly recording conversations and meetings at the Elysee.
Speaking on television at the time, Mr Sarkozy said: “I have known some acts of treachery in my time, but rarely like this!”
Mr Buisson was convicted of invasion of privacy and ordered to pay €20,000 (£17,000; $22,000) in damages to Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. According to the former adviser, only Carla Bruni ever cashed her cheque.