PARIS – President Nicolas Sarkozy's 23-year-old son is angling for a key job overseeing billions of euros in commerce at France's top business district — a job critics say he does not deserve.
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. The sprawling complex of skyscrapers houses the headquarters of some of Europe's biggest companies, such as oil giant Total and bank Societe Generale.
Sarkozy, a law school student at the Sorbonne, is the main candidate for the chairmanship.
Socialist Segolene Royal — who lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 elections for the French presidency — said she was "shocked" by his son's nomination.
"If he did not have the name he has, would he be where he is today?" she asked on France's RTL radio.
Others on the left decried the apparent nepotism.
"There is no longer any limit, anything is allowed, there are no more principles, no more rules," Socialist lawmaker Arnaud Montebourg said on RMC-info radio.
Montebourg criticized "the Sarkozy clan" and suggested that Jean Sarkozy should first "do his studies, prove himself, show he's capable of directing such an important establishment."
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 conservative father served as mayor for 19 years. In France, elected officials often hold multiple jobs, including in different branches of government, though it is rare for a politician to be elected while still in school.
Nicolas Sarkozy counts French industry tycoons and media executives among his close friends, and has been unusually open for a Frenchman about courting big business. French media made much noise when 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.
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, conservative Patrick Devedjian, said on French Radio Classique on Monday that Jean Sarkozy would be "helped" in the post.
"He's an intelligent boy, he is capable of learning," said Devedjian, 65, who has reached the mandatory retirement age.
Royal warned that La Defense 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 himself hasn't commented publicly on the political uproar.
EPAD's board of directors, made up of representatives of federal and local governments, formally elects its next chairman Dec. 4. The chairman has no executive powers and does not meet directly with investors, but oversees the board's activities.