The increasingly troubled presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy stumbled at the weekend into two new thickets of personal and political embarrassment.
M. Sarkozy has placed himself on a collision course with part of the French press by starting a legal action for "forgery" against a respected centre-left magazine. It is unprecedented for any French head of state to take a criminal action of that kind against a magazine or newspaper.
The website of Le Nouvel Observateur said it had seen a text message sent by M. Sarkozy eight days before his wedding to the pop-singer Carla Bruni last weekend, in which he begged his former wife Cécilia to return to him. "If you come back, I will cancel everything," the message is reported to have said. M. Sarkozy's lawyers say the message is a "fabrication" and a "forgery". To the astonishment of other parts of the media, they have started a legal action which could result in senior editors of the magazine being sent to prison for three years.
At the same time, political activists in M. Sarkozy's own wealthy fiefdom near Paris, including his son, Jean Sarkozy, have plunged the President into deep political embarrassment of a different kind.
They announced yesterday they had abandoned a stumbling campaign by M. Sarkozy's press officer, and close confidant, David Martinon, to become mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine – a post once held by M. Sarkozy.
M. Sarkozy had angered local activists of his own party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) by imposing M. Martinon, an inexperienced outsider, as mayoral candidate for the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly in the municipal elections next month. Two senior local UMP officials and Jean Sarkozy, the President's son from his first marriage, announced yesterday they had started a breakaway campaign after "major disagreements" with M. Martinon.
Although quite different in character, both disputes point to the heart of deepening concerns in France about M. Sarkozy's style and character. His mingling of politics and family and his autocratic treatment of even senior members of his own party have helped to plunge his eight months old presidency into a deepening crisis.
The President's ratings in the opinion polls have collapsed in the past fortnight, panicking some of his party's candidates.
As for the legal threat to the website; if it was President Sarkozy's intention to close down speculation about his private life, his tactics have backfired.