Europe News

Could France see the return of Nicolas Sarkozy?

Nicolas Sarkozy
Thomas Samson | AFP | Getty Images

When Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was asked by CNBC about the corruption charges against her husband, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she replied: "I trust the truth. So I feel like the truth is going to come out."

In the end, French investigators abandoned their inquiry into whether Sarkozy took advantage of elderly L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt in order to garner funds for his UMP party in the buildup to last year's presidential election.

While questions may still remain about Sarkozy's conduct, the end of the inquiry allows him more access to the public stage, from which he has remained firmly removed since his election loss to François Hollande.

Sarkozy is still incredibly popular within his party: 62 percent of conservative UMP voters want him to run for the presidency in 2017, according to a September Ifop poll.

However, he still faces questioning regarding the "Karachi Affair," yet another corruption case, this one linked to arms sales and a bombing in Pakistan in 2002.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said Sarkozy had to overcome the "Karachi Affair" hurdle before he could contemplate a return to politics.

"If he navigates his way past this particular obstacle then it might be possible, but he would have to go back on his pledge never to return," Hewson told CNBC.

"Any return would probably need to appeal to his ego and he would need to be asked," he added.

(Read More: Moscovici to France's businesses: stop French-bashing)

Furthermore, Sarkozy's path to a political return could be scuppered by divisions within his own party. A bitter UMP leadership election last November was left unresolved after François Fillon and Jean-François Copé both claimed victory. While Copé was eventually declared the winner, both sides alleged fraud and new elections were slated for this year. They are yet to materialize.

With Fillon and Copé still battling it out, would a Sarkozy return cause more divisions or could he be a unifier?

Fillon, who was prime minister under Sarkozy and once a staunch ally, told the JDD weekly paper this week, "I cannot take on all the consequences of a presidential candidacy and not be in conflict with Nicolas Sarkozy, given his state of mind. De facto, we are in competition."

Philippe Waechter, chief economist at Natixis Asset Management, said Sarkozy would do best to bide his time before making a comeback.

"He will be impatient to be the leader of the UMP, but if he does that too rapidly there is a risk that French citizens reject him. For me, the best strategy would be to come back in politics in 2016 as the man who could unify his party," Waechter said.

He added that while Sarkozy was popular within the UMP, he was less so outside: an Ifop survey in July revealed that 70 percent of the population believed Sarkozy would run for president in 2017, but only 40 percent actually wanted him to do so.

As Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, told CNBC, "He is a deeply, deeply polarizing figure in France."

Spiro took a similar line to Waechter, saying that it was too early for Sarkozy to bid for the UMP party leadership, and that with the party facing an insurgency from the French far-right, he would not want to divide the party further by interfering.

Spiro added: "Being the leader of a major political party in the current economic environment is a poisoned chalice. He is certainly not going to throw his hat into the ring before the European Parliament elections next year."

(Read more: France's Moscovici backs spending cuts, not tax hikes)

And as for the current president? Will Sarkozy now represent a headache for the unpopular Hollande administration?

"I think Hollande has much bigger problems than Nicolas Sarkozy," Spiro said. "It's really, at this particular juncture, not something that keeps the president up at night."