/ 18 October 2007

French president and wife divorce

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia have divorced by mutual consent after an often tempestuous 11-year marriage, the Presidency announced on Thursday.

The Elysee Palace released a statement to confirm the split as weeks of speculation reached fever pitch and newspapers for the first time devoted extensive front-page reports to the collapse of the marriage.

”Cecilia and Nicolas Sarkozy announce their separation by mutual consent. They will make no comment,” a terse first communique said. Two hours later a second statement said they have ”divorced by mutual consent”.

As the news broke, Sarkozy left for a European Union summit in Lisbon. Cecilia has been spotted in the capital in recent days, driving her Mini Cooper car and shopping ahead of the wedding of her 20-year-old daughter, Jeanne-Marie.

The couple, who have a 10-year-old son, have had a notoriously difficult marriage, and broke up for several months in 2005 when Cecilia ran away to New York to be with an advertising executive.

The Sarkozys reconciled but have barely been seen together since Nicolas Sarkozy (52) took office in May. Cecilia never moved into the Elysee palace and her last public appearance was in September at the funeral of her first husband, television presenter Jacques Martin.

”She didn’t want to participate in presidential life or in public life. It was inevitable,” said Partrick Balkany, a member of Sarkozy’s UMP party, who with his wife Isabelle is a close friend of the couple.

”She left [in 2005], and she came back. And when she came back they really thought they could start all over again. But they couldn’t. It is one of those things. It is a commonplace affair, but it is always sad when a couple breaks up,” he said.

”The president is deeply affected, but I honestly think it will have no impact on his role as head of state,” said Isabelle Balkany.

It was not immediately clear if the divorce procedures have been definitively concluded. Le Monde newspaper reported that the couple have set a date six weeks from now to conclude the process before a judge.

The couple first met in 1984 when Sarkozy — then mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly — officiated at her wedding to Martin. Both later divorced and 12 years later they were married. Each had two children from their first marriages and their son Louis was born in 1997.

A former model who worked as a parliamentary assistant and her husband’s ministerial adviser, Cecilia made no secret of her impatience with the conventional idea of being the president’s wife.

In an interview before the election, she said the notion of first lady ”bores me. I prefer going round in cowboy boots and combat trousers. I don’t fit the mould.”

Her unease became apparent as she avoided several foreign trips, famously crying off a lunch party with United States President George Bush.

Two weeks ago she offended the Bulgarian government when she refused to go to Sofia with her husband to receive an award for her help in the Libya nurses affair.

Sarkozy for his part spoke publicly of his emotional reliance on his wife and his need to please her. Their separation in 2005 left him, by his own account, ”profoundly shaken”.

”Everything indicates a dependence on his wife. On her presence depends the president’s psychological state. If the head of state gets heartsick, the whole country sneezes,” said Christophe Barbier, editor of l’Express magazine.

Hidebound by legal constraints and its traditions of discretion, the French press has until now only alluded to the separation rumours. But on Thursday newspapers splashed the marital troubles.

”Desperate Housewife” headlined Liberation beneath a full-page picture of Cecilia, while the Paris-Match society magazine had a three-page photo-spread of Cecilia taken recently in a Paris hotel.

Some constitutional experts said there could be difficulties obtaining a divorce because the president’s position as guarantor of the law means he cannot appear before a judge. However, others said that a divorce by mutual consent should not pose problems. — AFP