Inside the Élysée 'Sarkozy Has Learned to Like Angela Merkel'
Part 2: 'The Crisis Has Helped Sarkozy to Become Adult'
SPIEGEL: The French used to joke about the dull Germans. Now they are suddenly seen as an economic role model. Would you describe that as a small miracle?
Minc: It was Sarkozy who brought Germany into the discussion, as a model for change and reform and to push the French more towards austerity. You will see issues in his election campaign that are reminiscent of Hartz III and Hartz IV (ed's note: controversial reforms to Germany's labor market and social system pushed through by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as part of his "Agenda 2010" package). After the loss of the AAA rating, Sarkozy will unveil his own Agenda 2010 this month, and he will also implement reforms before the elections.
SPIEGEL: Is that why he invited Schröder to the Élysée Palace recently?
Minc: I was the one who brought Schröder to the Élysée. I thought it would be interesting to have Sarkozy listen to someone who carried out reforms right up until the last day of his term in office. That's what Schröder did. In the end, he almost won the election anyway. Schröder is proof positive that one can win elections as a reformer.
SPIEGEL: In other words, Schröder's Agenda 2010 is now serving Sarkozy as a blueprint?
Minc: In 1995, France had a 10 percent competitive advantage over Germany, which had been weakened by reunification. By 2007, France had lost 20 percent. Why? Because we made the double mistake of reducing the workweek to 35 hours and raising the minimum wage. At the same time, Germany was in the process of implementing Agenda 2010.
SPIEGEL: Unlike his role model Schröder, Sarkozy announced a "rupture" before his election, but he did not follow through with the promised reforms.
Minc: There was a major rupture after the 2007 election, and that was the crisis. With 2.5 percent growth, you are able to enact a different political program than in that sort of a situation. When the economy shrinks by 3 percent, you no longer worry about the 35-hour workweek, because you are nothing but a firefighter.
SPIEGEL: Sarkozy disappointed many French, because they felt that his behavior was not sufficiently presidential.
Minc: Sarkozy didn't consider that the French really elect a king. The French president's job is very complicated. He is simultaneously the queen of England and the prime minister. That's why France is so incomprehensible to Germans. Sarkozy behaved like the captain of a football team at first. Since then, he has played the role that the French expect of him. And he has learned that private matters must remain private. Just look how he handled the birth of his daughter.
SPIEGEL: You mean Sarkozy has become an adult while in office?
Minc: I would say that the crisis has definitely helped him to become adult.
SPIEGEL: How will this grown-up Sarkozy portray himself in the election campaign?
Minc: We will see a president who positions himself as a dedicated European. He will resemble Gerhard Schröder on domestic policy and Angela Merkel on European policy. Things will be turned around in these elections. Normally, the incumbent holds back while the challenger promises all sorts of things. It will be different this time.
SPIEGEL: Can Sarkozy win, given his poor poll numbers?
Minc: Maybe he can't win, but Hollande can lose. Two respectable individuals are running against each other. It will be a tight race.
SPIEGEL: How should we understand your role in the president's network?
Minc: I'm a friend. That's all.
SPIEGEL: A friend who is constantly on the phone with him, and who is known as the "evening visitor" in France?
Minc: I won't reveal, not even to you, how exactly I communicate with the president. I have the freedom of a friend who has known him for 25 years and tells him what he thinks. We have a very personal relationship. The problem in the French monarchy is that people at the Élysée don't dare to speak openly. The German chancellor spends the entire day listening to people who disagree with her. Sarkozy only hears the sentence, "Yes, Mr. President," all day long, just as (former Presidents) Jacques Chirac, Francois Mitterrand, Georges Pompidou and Charles de Gaulle did before him. That's why you need friends who have known you for a long time and can speak candidly.
SPIEGEL: You have many friends, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the scandal-plagued former head of the International Monetary Fund. Would it have been a different election campaign if he had been the Socialists' candidate?
Minc: I'm one of those people who have always felt that Dominique Strauss-Kahn could not become a candidate.
SPIEGEL: Because everyone in the small world of Paris knew everything long ago?
Minc: The details weren't known, but people knew about his fragility. A former adviser to Mitterrand once said: Dominique Strauss-Kahn will run in a primary, but he will not be a presidential candidate.
SPIEGEL: Have you discussed this with Nicolas Sarkozy?
Minc: Yes. Strauss-Kahn called me in 2007, because Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker had proposed him to head the IMF. I promised him I would call the president and get his opinion. Sarkozy thought it was a good idea, and I asked: "But wouldn't we be putting your competitor at the helm of the IMF?" Sarkozy replied: "You know perfectly well that Dominique cannot be a candidate." He was certain of that.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Minc, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Britta Sandberg and Mathieu von Rohr. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.
- Part 1: 'Sarkozy Has Learned to Like Angela Merkel'
- Part 2: 'The Crisis Has Helped Sarkozy to Become Adult'