At Monday's cabinet meeting, the last before the start of the summer holidays, President Sarkozy wished his team a "good rest" while reminding them to stay "particularly alert."

"/> At Monday's cabinet meeting, the last before the start of the summer holidays, President Sarkozy wished his team a "good rest" while reminding them to stay "particularly alert."

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Working holidays for French politicians

At Monday's cabinet meeting, the last before the start of the summer holidays, President Sarkozy wished his team a "good rest" while reminding them to stay "particularly alert."

Working holidays for French politicians
Remi Jouan

A spokesman for the Elysée palace, the president’s official residence, said “ministers must be available 24 hours a day. They are able to rest, but not be on holiday.”

Foreign minister Alain Juppé confirmed this, telling waiting camera crews as he left the meeting that the president had wished them “happy holidays, but stay in contact with your ministry morning, noon and night.”

Nicolas Sarkozy has also instructed his team to stay in France this year. The president himself has been criticized in the past for foreign vacations, particularly in 2007 when he took a holiday in the US with his then wife Cécilia.

While most have obeyed the order, three members of his team have dared to flout it. 

Like his British counterpart, David Cameron, the prime minister, François Fillon, will be in Tuscany in Italy. Higher education minister Laurent Wauquiez will go to Belgium. He defended his choice by saying he is “a quarter Belgian.”  

Industry minister Eric Besson was reluctant to say where he was going, writing on his Twitter account “I refuse to say where I’m going. Right to private life. Respect for those close to me.” However, newspaper France Soir reported that he would be in Tunisia with his wife’s family.

The president’s more obedient ministers will be dotted around the country, with parliamentary party leader Jean-François Copé and health and employment minister Xavier Bertrand venturing off the mainland to visit Corsica.

The president and his wife are able to enjoy the luxurious surroundings of the presidential palace at Fort Bregançon, where they have already spent several weekends this summer. They are also expected to visit his wife’s summer home in the southern resort of Cap Nègre.

For the Socialists, the summer is an important campaigning time as they gear up for primary elections in October to choose the contender for next year’s presidential election.

Former party leader, Martine Aubry, is already in Brittany where she has been photographed several times making appearances at local markets. 

Her rival François Hollande is in the south-west town of Landes with his partner Valérie Trieweiler. 

Hollande’s former wife and 2007 presidential contender, Ségolène Royal, will be in the region where she is president, Poitou-Charentes. “It will be a serious holiday as I need to read the proofs of the book I have coming out in September,” she told France Soir.

On the right, Marine Le Pen’s break in the family home of Trinité-sur-Mer in southern Brittany has already been disturbed several times as she deals with fallout from comments by party members about the recent killings in Norway.

Government ministers will all be expected back in Paris by August 24th for the next planned cabinet meeting.

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Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson