Image: Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia
Chris Wattie  /  Reuters
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and his wife Cecilia have reportedly launched divorce proceedings.
updated 10/18/2007 2:56:25 AM ET 2007-10-18T06:56:25

Persistent rumors that Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia have taken steps toward separation set off a debate Wednesday over whether the constitution even allows a French president to divorce.

Rumors that the couple was on the verge of officially separating have spread for weeks. French media have widely reported the suspicions — with numerous “no comments” but no official denials.

On Wednesday, the respected news source Le Nouvel Observateur reported on its Web site that Sarkozy, 52, and his 49-year-old wife appeared before a judge Oct. 15 and told him that they are seeking a legal separation. The report did not cite any sources.

News channel LCI gave a slightly different version of the story on its Web site. It said Cecilia Sarkozy saw a judge alone Monday and the judge later visited the presidential Elysee Palace to give Sarkozy a document to countersign.

Neither version could be confirmed despite numerous calls to court officials.

Government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez would not comment on the reports But he did say Sarkozy had been in a good mood at Wednesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Constitutional debate
Rumors of the split has sparked debate among experts over whether the constitution even allows them to divorce.

Two experts argued in a full-page commentary Wednesday in the daily Liberation that Article 67 of the constitution, added to bolster presidential protection, prevents anyone, including a spouse, from bringing a legal action against the president.

“Even divorce by mutual consent appears complicated” because of the strong legal protections designed to keep sitting presidents out of court, wrote Norbert Foulquier of the University of Evry and Vincent Valentin of the Sorbonne.

Other constitutional experts disagree.

Article 67 “is made to protect not the man, but the presidential function,” said Didier Ribes, a specialist in constitutional law.

A president’s divorce would be a “purely private procedure ... between two private people,” he said. The constitution protects the freedom to tie the matrimonial knot or to untie it, he added.

In the Sarkozys’ case, it is unclear who might initiate a divorce action, or whether it would be mutual.

Cecilia rarely attends state functions
Word of a possible separation comes five months after Sarkozy took office and shortly before the couple’s 11th wedding anniversary on Oct. 23.

In the past, Sarkozy freely displayed his emotional attachment to his wife and has praised her as first lady despite her stated desire to shun the title.

But few in France would be surprised by a split. The Sarkozys separated for several months in 2005, getting back together as the presidential campaign began moving into high gear. However, Cecilia Sarkozy has rarely appeared with her husband in public since.

Cecilia Sarkozy bowed out early from the couple’s first state event, a G-8 summit in Germany in June. She was a no-show at a lunch offered by President Bush in August when the Sarkozys vacationed in New Hampshire. Sarkozy said his wife had a sore throat.

The vacation was the last time the couple was seen together.

French presidential spokesman David Martinon has said Sarkozy would travel alone on a state visit next week to Morocco.

Cecilia Sarkozy dramatically raised her profile during a July mission to seek the release of five Bulgarian medical workers and a Palestinian doctor jailed in Libya. Sent by her husband, she negotiated directly with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. However, she failed to accompany her husband to Bulgaria to pick up that nation’s highest state honor.

Both Sarkozys have been previously married. They have two children each from their previous marriages, as well as their own son, Louis.

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