President Nicolas Sarkozy's drive to stamp his personal authority on all aspects of French government has been extended to the country's famously quarrelsome security services.
The President has appointed a close ally to head the counter-espionage service, the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), which is broadly the equivalent of MI5 in Britain. Bernard Squarcini, 51, who is known as le Squale - "the Shark" - has been given a potentially explosive mandate to absorb the other main internal security agency, the RG (Renseignements G�n�raux).
The two agencies, although both part of the Police Nationale, are tribally suspicious of one another and detest the idea of a merger. The unification is also strongly opposed by the Interior Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie. This is one of several issues in which Mme Alliot-Marie is said to be determined to resist interference by the President in the day-to-day management of her ministry (which used to be run by M. Sarkozy).
In his six weeks in office, the President has already moved to appoint close allies as head of the national police service and as the police chief in Paris. One of his principal campaign managers has also been parachuted into the leading job in the most-watched French TV station, TF1.
As a result, the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchain� has dubbed the all-controlling President "Le Tsarkozy".
M. Squarcini, the man who has been given a "licence to merge", is a Corsican-born career police officer and anti-terrorism expert. He was once deputy head of the Renseignment G�n�raux, which covers some of the functions of the Special Branch in Britain but also monitors horse-racing and betting. The RG's tasks are mostly repression of internal subversion and home-grown terrorism. M. Squarcini will now be expected to merge this agency with the DST, which is the main anti-foreign terrorism agency and counter-intelligence service.
Traditionally, the DST has largely spied on foreigners. The RG has mostly spied on the French (including on the DST).
The two agencies are already being brought under one roof in a modern building in Levallois-Perret, just outside the Paris city boundary.
President Sarkozy argues that uniting the agencies would end rivalries, reduce overlap and make French action against terrorism more efficient. It would also make the agencies easier for the government, and President, to control.
Both agencies have been accused in the past of being manipulated by presidents and prime ministers to damage rival politicians. M. Sarkozy is said to have been suspicious of the role of the DST in the murky "Clearstream" affair, which was an attempt to smear him as financially corrupt.
The outgoing DST head, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, 53, was regarded as close to the former president, Jacques Chirac. He has been moved to the low profile job of prefect (chief government official) in M. Sarkozy's own power base, the d�partment of Hauts-de-Seine, just west of Paris.
The talents of the new DST head are recognised by all. He is said to be one of France's most effective and subtle counter-terrorism experts. However, his personal allegiance to the President will reinforce the impression of the creation of a Sarkozy State. The idea of merging the DST and RG is said to have been suggested to M. Sarkozy by M. Squarcini himself. President Chirac resisted the idea when he was still President.
The Interior Minister, Mme Alliot-Marie, in a rare example of public dissidence within the Sarkozy government, told Le Monde earlier this month that a DST-RG merger would be "premature, to say the least".