Beleaguered Sarkozy to address nation over donations

AFTER weeks of turmoil over a political donations scandal, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will make a rare summer address to the nation today, before a key pension reform is presented to the cabinet tomorrow.

The furore over alleged cash handouts by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, and her late husband, to conservative politicians has shaken Sarkozy and helped drive his approval rating to a record low.

Sarkozy is expected to try to quash the growing scandal today by attempting to steer attention back to pension reform, which is highly unpopular with voters and unions.

Embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth plays a central role in the affair, as he was Sarkozy’s election campaign treasurer at the time of the alleged donations and is in charge of a pension reform to be presented to the cabinet tomorrow.

Despite isolated calls for Woerth to resign, or for Sarkozy to bring forward a cabinet reshuffle planned for October, the president seems determined to tough it out in the hope that the story will die away during the holidays.

Critics say the government is in crisis.

“There’s nothing more (Sarkozy) can do by talking, the French are waiting for action,” Jerome Cahuzac, Socialist president of the finance commission, told newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

“The events are all as sordid as each other. The French can no longer accept this decay,” centrist leader Francois Bayrou told Europe 1 radio yesterday. A source at the presidential palace has said Sarkozy’s appearance was not related to the political crisis.

The government has said Woerth has not been weakened by the affair and that he has Sarkozy’s full support.

Woerth told Le Journal du Dimanche he wanted to be given a hearing as quickly as possible in order to prove his innocence.

In an interview on Tuesday, he denounced what he called an “outpouring of hatred” against himself and said he was the victim of “a political cabal orchestrated by the Socialist party“.

Bettencourt’s lawyer has not commented on the allegations. Sarkozy’s ratings have dropped to an all-time low, and a survey on Friday showed he would lose the second round of the next general election, due in 2012, to Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry.


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