Sacked Sarkozette aims for the top again

(Charles Platiau/Reuters)

France's Justice Minister Rachida Dati

Rachida Dati, the former French minister

with a mystery baby, speaks out about

the joys of parenthood and

her political ambitions


In a rare departure from her habitual reserve,

Rachida Dati, the former justice minister

and France's most famous mother,

has spoken of the hurt she feels at

the constant guessing game

about the paternity of her baby.

"It can be humiliating," she said, referring

to speculation about what is often described

as closely a guarded secret

as the French nuclear codes.

"It is also hurtful to people around me."

Mayor of an affluent Parisian district and

a Euro MP in President Nicolas

Sarkozy's centre-right party, Dati defended

her return to work only five days after

giving birth to daughter Zohra

in January: it had provoked outrage

from feminists who regarded France's first

north African minister as

a traitor to their cause.

"Being a minister is not like being

a check-out girl or some other worker,"

she said in her first interview with

a foreign journalist since having her baby.

"In any case, I think that the most

elemental woman's right is

the right to choose."

A petite figure in her distinctive black suit,

Dati, 43, seemed to have lost none

of her verve and pugnacity as

she fielded questions in between

glances at a constantly buzzing BlackBerry

and a television screen in her

mayor's ornate office in

the seventh arrondissement of Paris.

She mocked the fuss that was made

in the press of her allegedly high-handed

behaviour as justice minister and

her steadfast refusal to reveal

the identity of her child's father.

Anything she did seemed

to cause controversy, she claimed,

with a smile.

"I was pregnant, it started a controversy,"

she laughed. "People didn't know about

my private life — controversy.

I was carrying out reforms [as justice minister],

more controversy.

I wore high heels and was

well dressed, controversy there too."

Once an emblem of the diversity

in Sarkozy's "rainbow government",

Dati, daughter of an Algerian cleaner

and a Moroccan bricklayer, denied that

she had been lukewarm about

her European parliament job after

being dismissed from the government in June.

What might have seemed like painful

exile away from the media limelight

in Paris was, in fact, a welcome

"breathing space" after a tempestuous

period in which she had had

to implement unpopular judicial

reforms on behalf of Sarkozy,

who had promised "rupture"

with the bad old ways of the past.

"They were hard reforms to implement,

I implemented them very quickly," she said,

referring to a dramatic upheaval

of the French legal map which involved

the axeing of several courts

with the loss of numerous jobs.

"Afterwards I had the image of being

very hard, authoritarian.

I am not authoritarian, though.

I am demanding."

Once she was the favourite of

the "Sarkozettes", as the female ministers

are sometimes known, but it did not stop

the president from sacking her when

he grew tired of the media focus

on her designer wardrobe

and love life. Nor did he change

his mind when she asked

if he would be the child's godfather.

Ever the loyal lieutenant, she defended him

last week against charges of nepotism

in the furious row over thwarted plans

to appoint Jean, his 23-year-old son,

to head the agency that runs La Défense,

the cluster of towers on the Paris skyline

that is one of the biggest business

districts in Europe.

"Jean had wisdom to retire," she said,

referring to the second-year law

student's decision to withdraw as a candidate.

"He did not want to harm the government."

Nor does Dati. She dreams of returning

to the cabinet one day,

or of running for mayor of Paris in 2014.

"It's very far off," she said of the race

in a capital governed by Socialists.

"But the essential thing is that

the presidential majority takes

back Paris. We must start

to get organised."

Often accused of chasing publicity,

Dati said it was the other way round

and that she was constant prey

to paparazzi photographers who pursued

her like a Hollywood celebrity

wherever she went, including to

a beach in Morocco where she was

recently photographed playing

with Zohra and walking her in a pushchair.

"It can be annoying, but you have

to live with it," she said. "I cover

a lot of spectrums," she added,

explaining her fascination for the media.

"As a woman. As a mother.

As a deputy. As a mayor.

As a politician. As many things.

On account of my origins. My background."

One of 12 siblings, she grew up

on an impoverished housing estate

in deepest Burgundy and

her meteoric rise to the summit

of French politics was hailed

by Sarkozy as a sign "to all the children

of France that with merit and effort

everything becomes possible".

He also proclaimed that because

of that he could not "allow her to fail".

Her downfall, nevertheless, was just

as swift as her elevation,

after protests by judges

and court clerks about her reforms

and criticism of her high-spending ways.

One of the biggest fusses of her tenure

concerned her penchant for posing

in glossy magazines clad in Dior dresses

borrowed from the designer.

There was another controversy

when a designer had to threaten

a lawsuit to get back one of the garments.

She strongly denied, however,

that she had mistreated any members

of her staff, as had been alleged after

the resignations of several

of her ministerial lieutenants.

"I do not mistreat people," she said firmly.

Although she is no longer in the cabinet,

the French fascination for Dati

seems only to grow, and books about

her political adventure with Sarkozy

and her complicated family arrangements

have flown off the shelves.

The identity of Zohra's father is a subject

of such intense speculation

that various international statesmen,

politicians and celebrities

from Jose Maria Aznar,

the former prime minister of Spain,

to Ali Bin Fetais al-Marri,

the attorney-general of Qatar,

have felt obliged to deny that

they are the father. Bernard Laporte,

the jovial former sports minister

and coach of the national rugby team,

also issued a denial.

Pressed on this question last week,

Dati's dark eyes flashed with

sudden annoyance and

her voice cracked like a whip.

"Nobody knows anything

about my private life," she scowled.

"And I'm not going to start

talking about it today."

On the joys of parenthood, by contrast,

she lit up, describing the birth

of her child as "the best thing in my life".

She said that she did not know

whether she would have another baby.

"I have more of a time limit than if

I were 20," she said. "It is the best thing

that can happen. It gives you

another definition of life.

I have less obsessions. And I'm much more

attentive to health these days.

Because I say to myself I have a baby."

She went on: "I have friends who never

wanted to have children. I don't judge them.

But I always said, even when I didn't

have children, that I thought my life would

be a failure if I didn't have any."

She sometimes sends a text

to order the baby to be brought

from the nursery down the road

into her office. "I hold her on my lap

while I'm working," she said. "Sometimes

when I haven't seen her, it annoys me.

I have to see her."

She claimed not to have read

a book by her brother, Jamal, the black sheep

of the Datis who accused her

of freezing all contact with him

after becoming a minister because

of his drugs conviction.

He also claimed that the bundle

she held, to the delight of photographers,

when leaving the hospital, was,

in fact, empty and that her baby had

been taken away earlier

to avoid being jostled by journalists.

Dati called it "scandalous" that a journalist

had sought out the one member

of her family who "is doing less well.

They haven't done that with

any other female politician".

Her BlackBerry buzzed again and

she giggled after consulting

a text message: a friend, she explained,

was ordering her to wear a dinner jacket

at an event they were attending that evening.

She is also looking forward to getting

to know Britain, and is enthusiastic about

an invitation to join Jack Straw,

the justice minister, at an event

in his Blackburn constituency.

"He's invited me to his constituency

because there are subjects linked

to integration, to populations of foreign origin,"

she said. "We're in the process of organising it."

Outside her office a wedding party

has gathered. "Marrying people, that's one

of her favourite jobs as mayor,"

said an aide. "Everyone wants

to be married by Madame Dati."

First openly gay minister for Germany

The German chancellor Angela Merkel

yesterday announced that Guido Westerwelle, 47,

the leader of the Free Democrats, would

become foreign minister, the first openly

gay politician to hold the post,

in her new coalition government.

The wheelchair-bound interior minister,

Wolfgang Schäuble, 67, will become

finance minister; Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, 37,

takes over the defence portfolio.

Philipp Rösler, 36, who is of

Vietnamese descent, becomes

the youngest member

of the cabinet as health minister.

Link here

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