While giving a speech in Canada the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy made several oblique jabs at his successor, Francois Hollande, including suggestions that introducing equal marriage during an economic crisis was unwise.

Since his defeat in the May 2012 elections, in which he lost the presidential seat to Hollande, Sarkozy effectively retired from politics. Unlike many other former heads of state he had declined to take up a career in speaking and has largely avoided public appearances – bar making a public call on governments to intervene in Syria back in August 2012.

He broke this trend on Thursday by giving a speech at a telecommunications conference in Montreal, although the audience consisted of paying businessmen and “Sarkozy fans” rather than being open to the public, reports Der Spiegel.

“I will try to avoid doing two things today,” he began. “Interfering in Canadian politics — and engaging in French politics… Although it’s not as if I have no desire to do so.”

He went on to give a talk which, although never mentioning his successor by name, made numerous damning references to him.

“There’s life after politics,” he told the audience. “In all honesty, I feel good. And when I look at those who succeeded me, I even feel very good.”

The master of ceremonies, former minister of international trade Michael Fortier, brought up the same-sex marriage bill which was passed by the French National Assembly on 23 April and is due to be signed into law by President Hollande.

Mr Fortier told Sarkozy that Canadians were surprised that France had not already legalised same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Canada since 2005.

Sarkozy responded: “France is a country with Christian roots. When you fly over the country you see churches and cathedrals everywhere.

“And during an economic crisis, a president has to be very careful not to divide the country,” he added, suggesting it was unwise of President Hollande to push for the passage of the bill, which has caused rifts and violent protests within France.

Sarkozy has previously said that, although he despises homophobia, he views the definition of a family as one mother and one father, and would not legally change it.

Last week President Hollande urged for calm following violent protests over the same-sex marriage bill’s passing, saying the country needed to focus on “jobs, recovery and confidence.”

Unemployment is at an all-time high of 3.2 million in France, and many anti-equal marriage protesters have cited this as part of their opposition, with numerous signs at protests reading: “Jobs, not gay marriage”. After the same-sex marriage bill passed protesters faced off against riot police, using stones, bottles, and iron bars as weapons.