Sealed with a kiss, the demise of Dati

The French Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who returned to work five days after giving birth this month, has been banished by President Nicolas Sarkozy into the "internal exile" of the European Parliament.

Mme Dati, 43, will retain her job until May but has agreed to stand down to become deputy leader of the ruling party's campaign in the greater Paris area for the European elections in June.

Although officially presented as a new, democratic and European adventure for Mme Dati, the decision amounts to a serious demotion for a woman catapulted into high office 20 months ago as a symbol of President Sarkozy's drive to "open up" French public life to women and minorities.

Mme Dati, a daughter of poor Algerian and Moroccan immigrants, is said to have begged the President to remain in her senior ministerial job, or at least national politics. According to one version of events, she won only a vague promise that she would be brought back into government, in another post, some time in the future.

Although initially a confidante of M. Sarkozy and a close friend of his ex-wife, Cécilia, Mme Dati's standing in the presidential "court" has plummeted in the past 15 months. The abrupt departure of the second Mme Sarkozy in October 2007 weakened her link to the President. Her campaign to rationalise the French courts was resisted by judges and lawyers who accused her of being high-handed and insensitive.

Her glamorous lifestyle and emergence as a "celeb" in glossy magazines, irritated M. Sarkozy. Worse, Mme Dati has an awkward relationship with the President's influential third wife. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy once revealed she had teased Mme Dati by pointing to the presidential bed at the Elysée Palace and saying: "You would have liked to have climbed in there, wouldn't you?"

Mme Dati announced last September that she was pregnant, but refused to name the father, angering the conservative-traditional wing of the ruling centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). Mme Dati's much-criticised decision this month to return to work five days after giving birth to her daughter, Zohra, was widely seen as a desperate attempt to hang on to her job.

If so, it failed. President Sarkozy had initially tried to persuade her in December that she should take the number one position in the UMP's list for the European elections in greater Paris this June. She refused, saying she wanted to remain in national politics.

Yesterday it was announced that she had agreed to take a lesser position – the second spot, behind the Agricultural Minister, Michel Barnier. Under rules laid down by President Sarkozy, both ministers will have to resign before the campaign begins in May and both will have to take up their seats in Strasbourg and Brussels if elected (which is virtually certain).

Unlike M. Barnier, a former European commissioner, Mme Dati has never shown any previous interest in European politics. Membership of the European Parliament is as much a marginal position in French politics as it is in Britain. The decision was interpreted by the French media as a slow-motion dumping of Mme Dati. "It is an elegant way of getting her out of the Justice Ministry, without cutting her off from all prospects of a future in government," a senior UMP figure told the newspaper, Le Monde.

Other officials suggested she was unlikely to return to the cabinet but might, if she took to European "exile", be considered for the French position within the European Commission in 2010. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether this is the end of the meteoric rise of Mme Dati – or a new beginning.

Mme Dati was born near Lyons. Through academic brilliance, work and cheek, she became a highly-paid lawyer. Seven years ago she bombarded the newly-appointed Interior Minister with letters requesting a job. The minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, eventually relented. Mme Dati became a close adviser and one of two spokespeople for his presidential campaign in 2007.

Her appointment as Justice Minister in May 2007 stunned many people. President Sarkozy made her the poster-child of a long-overdue "overture" of French politics to racial minorities. Mme Dati's travails, which began almost immediately, have been interpreted in different ways. Some politicians suggest she has been given a tougher time than necessary because she is a woman of North African origin. Others say that the President wilfully appointed someone not equipped politically for such a high-profile job.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks