Carla Bruni Sarkozy
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and her husband, France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy (Reuters)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced his return to politics and launched a bid to the leadership of the opposition party UMP.

The 59-year-old right-wing politician, who said he was retiring after his defeat at the hands of Francois Hollande two years ago, said on a Facebook message that after careful consideration he decided to offer the French people "a new political choice".

"I'm running for the presidency of my political family," he said. "I propose it to turn it inside out in order to create, within three months, the conditions for a new and vast gathering that will address all the French, with no partisanship, beyond traditional cleavages that no longer correspond to any reality."

Last week, French paper Le Parisien reported that the ex-president wanted to merge the UMP party with the smaller centrist UDI.

His political comeback was barely concealed despite his pre-2012 election claims that if he lost "nobody will hear of me again". In the path to the Elysee Palace in 2017, he will face rivals in his own UMP party, which is split with internal fighting since Sarkozy's election defeat.

Former prime ministers Alain Juppe and Francois Fillon, former employment minister Xavier Bertrand and other party figures will likely stand in his way in the UMP leadership's elections at the end of November.

Married to model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, Sarkozy remains a deeply divisive figure in France, who is also under investigation for alleged corruption and campaign funding irregularities.

Hollande, his socialist successor, has become the most unpopular French president of modern times over his handling of the economy.