France may recently have suffered a credit agency downgrade, but President Nicolas Sarkozy's triple-A lifestyle in the Elysee Palace has been skewered in a new book.

L'Argent de l'Etat by Rene Dosiere, an opposition Socialist politician who has chosen to publish the book less than three months before the presidential election, raises some awkward questions about the spending of Sarkozy and his Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Dosiere, a veteran campaigner against state extravagance, gives Sarkozy credit where it is due. Unlike his predecessors, the President publishes an annual budget - €113 million ($177 million) a year - for the expenses of the Elysee Palace.

Nonetheless, some intriguing facts emerge. The Sarkozy Elysee operates 121 cars, compared to 55 under predecessor Jacques Chirac. Sarkozy travels twice as much as Chirac. Since the beginning of his presidency, he has spent an average of 24 hours a week in the air. About €10,000 a day is spent on food.

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In 2008, the President hosted a two-hour long summit which cost the French taxpayer €17 million - the equivalent of €58,000 a minute.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy's chances of re-election will boom if the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, is locked out of the race, according to a new poll.

The poll triggered claims from the far right of an "undemocratic" conspiracy by Sarkozy's party, the UMP, to deny Le Pen the 500 official signatures needed to make the first round ballot on April 23.

So far, the National Front leader has 352 promises from village mayors and elected officials and is struggling to find new sponsors before a March 17 deadline, despite almost 20 per cent support in the polls.

A poll for the Journal du Dimanche found that Sarkozy would draw level with Socialist front-runner, Francois Hollande, if Le Pen was barred from the race. Without her name on the ballot paper, the poll found Sarkozy and Hollande would each attract 33 per cent of the first round vote.

If the far right was present, Hollande would score 29.5 per cent, Sarkozy 24.5 per cent and Le Pen 19 per cent. Only two candidates proceed to the second round on May 7.

- Independent