Sarkozy's Louis XIV moment

Parliament summoned to Versailles to hear President

Nicholas Sarkozy yesterday trod where no French president for 161 years has dared, or chosen, to tread when he spoke to parliament.

After a constitutional change, completed a few hours before, M. Sarkozy addressed both houses of parliament gathered in the Palace of Versailles to explain his vision of the future of France and of the world.

Presidential Question Time it was not. The parliamentarians were forbidden to intervene while the President was speaking. They were forbidden to ask questions. The President's 50-minute speech was followed by a debate but M. Sarkozy departed before it began.

As a result, Green and Communist parliamentarians boycotted the speech. Socialists listened in silence but boycotted the debate. President Sarkozy's centre-right supporters gave him a rhythmic standing ovation.

The whole event – transporting both houses of parliament, the government, the Republican Guard and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to Versailles – cost the French taxpayer €400,000. One Green deputy suggested that it was "the most expensive press conference in history".

In his speech, President Sarkozy attempted a brilliant balancing act. The man who had been elected two years ago to impose "rupture" on French politics said the global recession had demonstrated that the "French model" was the best in the world. However, he said, this did not mean that "radical" reforms were no longer needed.

Despite the explosion of the indebtedness of the French state, he said there would be no tax rises and no "policy of austerity". Instead there would be a new form of "state loan" – but only for productive investment.

He took a few minutes aside from the macro-politics to address a burning headline issue of the day. The French government is split on whether or not there should be a ban on the burqa, or full-body Islamic veil. President Sarkozy said that the burqa was not a religious symbol but a "symbol of servitude". He supported proposals for a parliamentary inquiry, without saying specifically that he supported a legal ban.

French presidents have been barred constitutionally from addressing parliament since 1875. None has done so since 1848. President Sarkozy pushed through a constitutional change last year, requiring the president to speak to both houses of parliament at least once a year, in the name of "transparency" and the "modernisation" of the French state.

Despite the modesty and humility of these aims, the event rapidly became clothed in monarchical trappings. Satirists and opposition politicians had a field day. President Sarkozy was portrayed by French cartoonists yesterday in the long wig and robes of the absolutist Roi Soleil, King Louis XIV.

President Sarkozy entered the chamber alone, the parliamentarians were forbidden to sit in their political groups. They were seated alphabetically. A debate followed but only after the President had departed. There was no official reply from the Prime Minister, François Fillon.

Opposition politicians and commentators said the event marked the further humiliation of M. Fillon and the prime ministerial office, marginalised by M. Sarkozy's frenetic activity since he became President two years ago.

A lightly reshuffled government – Fillon 2 – will be announced tomorrow. Rather than making wholesale changes, President Sarkozy has decided to do little more than replace two ministers – Rachida Dati (Justice) and Michel Barnier (Agriculture) – who are going to the European Parliament. One government deputy said: "Why bother to reshuffle the government when everyone knows that the real government is the Elysée Palace?"

Burqas and budgets: What he said

In his speech to both houses of the French parliament, President Sarkozy came close to anticipating the result of the planned parliamentary inquiry on the full-length Islamic veil. "The burqa is not welcome on the territory of the [French] Republic," he said.

"The problem of the burqa is not a religious problem. It is a problem of women's liberty and dignity. It is not a religious symbol. It is a symbol of servitude and humiliation."

Among other proposals in his speech, President Sarkozy said that any person made redundant in France should be given one year's salary and training. Despite record borrowing of 7 per cent of GDP, M. Sarkozy said there would be no tax rises or steep spending cuts.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor