(AP Photo/Chales Platiau, pool, File)
Outraged critics are crying nepotism, and say the brash bid by President Nicolas Sarkozy's son is an affront to France's egalitarian values. Leftists are decrying the prospect of the wealthy "Sarkozy clan" intertwining itself even more intimately with the realm of big business.
Jean Sarkozy's conservative backers insisted Monday that he's qualified to chair EPAD, the quasi-governmental agency that manages the La Defense financial district on the western outskirts of Paris. Some 150,000 people commute to work in the sprawling complex of skyscrapers that houses the headquarters of some of Europe's biggest companies, such as oil giant Total and bank Societe Generale.
Sarkozy, whose sound bites, expansive mannerisms and on-the-stump charm recall those of his dad, is studying law at the Sorbonne. He is also the main candidate for the EPAD chairmanship. It's a job Nicolas Sarkozy once held himself.
"If he did not have the name he has, would he be where he is today?" asked Socialist Segolene Royal, who lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 elections for the French presidency. Speaking on RTL radio, she said she was "shocked" by the bid.
Socialist lawmaker Arnaud Montebourg lamented: "There is no longer any limit, anything is allowed, there are no more principles, no more rules."
Plenty of voters are aghast, too. More than 31,000 people had added their names to an online "petition" as of Monday evening urging Jean Sarkozy to drop his designs on the job.
"Presiding such an institution requires competence and experience," reads the appeal, launched by Christophe Grebert, a centrist politician from a neighboring town, Puteaux. "We urge you to finish your law studies and do a few internships in companies ... before, perhaps, one day, who knows, re-bidding for this job."
It's an unusual post, highly visible yet largely symbolic. The 18 members of EPAD's board are volunteers who give the final "yes" or "no" to investors who want building permits or administrative favors in La Defense. The only job requirement is being a member of federal or local government.
In addition to studying law, Jean Sarkozy was elected last year to a regional council representing part of the Paris suburb of Neuilly, where his father served as mayor for 19 years and launched his political career.
Responding to the attacks about his candidacy, Jean Sarkozy said that whatever he accomplishes in life, "My legitimacy will always be on trial."
Asked by Le Parisien newspaper if he had talked with his father about his plans, he said, "Of course I informed those who are close to me, that's normal. That said, I'm following my own path."
While elected officials in France often hold multiple jobs, it's quite rare for a politician to be elected while still in school.
Many French 23-year-olds are living with their parents and either studying or looking for a job. Unemployment is particularly high among youth, who often spend years doing internships before landing a steady job. President Sarkozy has tried to boost opportunities for young people, and has several government ministers in their 30s.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, is also unusually open for left-friendly France about his appreciation for wealth. He wants the country to be more pro-business, and counts French industry tycoons and media executives among his close friends. Jean Sarkozy last year married the daughter of the head of major French electronics maker Darty.
Having a powerful voice from the presidential family at La Defense is seen as another blow to France's struggling leftist opposition. Socialist Royal said it could sway future elections in the Sarkozy family's favor.
"These are very big financial stakes. That could always help, ahead of a future presidential elections, if you see what I'm saying, to hold the keys and toss around millions of euros," she said.
The president hasn't commented publicly on the political uproar, nor has Jean Sarkozy, the second of his three sons. The EPAD board chooses its next chairman Dec. 4.
Conservative mayor and Sarkozy ally Patrick Balkany says the nomination "has nothing to do with the fact that he is his father's son." Balkany said Jean Sarkozy has "perhaps even more talent than his father had at that age."
EPAD's outgoing chairman, 65-year-old Patrick Devedjian, must step down because he has reached the mandatory retirement age.
He had faint praise for his likely successor. Speaking on Radio Classique, Devedjian said, "He's an intelligent boy, he is capable of learning."
Associated Press writer Ingrid Rousseau contributed to this report.