French president Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly told associates last month, "If we lose the triple-A, I'm dead." Well, France lost the triple-A bond rating, and Sarkozy is scrambling.
That's the account from AFP, which reported that Sarkozy held an emergency meeting with economic ministers after Standard & Poor's cut France's credit rating to AA+ to reflect continuing concerns about debt that has imperiled the entire Eurozone. The first casualties of the downgrade could be general — the French press is bracing for a tightening of credit in the economy as borrowing costs rise — and very personal for the president.
The downgrade gave a useful cudgel to Sarkozy's chief rival, Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party, who noted pointedly that Sarkozy had campaigned as the only candidate with the ability to preserve the all-important rating. Now, he has failed, Hollande noted, taking a moment to gloat:
"It is (his) politics that have been downgraded, not France," said the Socialist who the polls say will win the vote to be held in April and May.
Sarkozy himself had anticipated just such a fate.
Sarkozy -- who hosted crisis talks with his top economics ministers at the Elysee on Friday -- reportedly told allies last month: "If we lose the triple-A, I'm dead."
He had staked his re-election bid on convincing voters that he was the only candidate with the stature and experience to save France from economic meltdown.
He justified pushing through two austerity packages as necessary to defend France's triple-A rating.
But Friday's downgrade left a sizeable hole in his reelection campaign.
More trouble could be in the offing. S&P has a negative long-term outlook, raising the possibility the ratings agency could even order further downgrades of debt in France and its other troubled European brethren over the next several years.