The French justice minister, Rachida Dati, has made a calamitous start to her new career as a European politician, stumbling and giggling her way through an "any questions" session with young activists of her own centre-right party.
In her first appearance on the European campaign trail, Mme Dati achieved the impossible. She created banner headlines and an internet buzz about the otherwise largely ignored elections to the European Parliament in June.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who pushed his estranged protégée into the European campaign against her will, is unlikely to be impressed. Clips of Mme Dati giggling, shuffling her papers and displaying almost wilful ignorance of EU issues attracted tens of thousands of hits on French video websites yesterday.
At one point Mme Dati was asked whether she believes that the European Union interferes too much in national affairs. She replies: "The EU looks after those things that we ask it to look after… with the people who are asked to look after them. In other words, us. " She then turns to the young party official beside her and asks: "Did I do OK?"
At another point, she is asked about renewable energy. She replies (giggling): "Oh yes we’ve rehearsed that one. Nuclear power supplies 77 per cent of our energy… Isn’t that it?"
Someone points out that she means electricity, not energy. She giggles again: "Oh, bah, they told me energy".
Mme Dati will leave her job as justice minister next month, on President Sarkozy’s orders, to take up the Number Two position on the centre-right list for the European elections in the Greater Paris area. This has been almost universally interpreted as a form of internal exile for a minister who was once one of President Sarkozy’s closest associates.
Mme Dati, 43, was catapulted into one of the top jobs in French government two years ago without any previous political experience. She rapidly irritated M. Sarkozy by becoming a glossy magazine celebrity and by committing a series of political gaffes. Her position was also weakened by the departure of M. Sarkozy’s second wife, Cécilia, who was one of her strongest supporters.
The media circus surrounding Mme Dati’s pregnancy, and her refusal to name the father of her child, is also said to have angered the President. She was initially asked to take the Number One position on the Ile de France list of M. Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). She refused but was later forced to take the second place, which should guarantee her a seat in Strasbourg.
The European campaign has been portrayed by the Elysée Palace as an opportunity for Mme Dati to prove herself as a grass roots politician. Judging by her first performance in a question and answer session with young UMP supporters, Mme Dati still has difficulty in taking the European elections seriously.
Pierre Moscovici, the former Socialist minister for Europe, said: "Her attitude is distressing. Europe deserves better. The European Parliament is not a parking place for out of favour courtesans."Reuse content