"I am for a recognition of facts, not for repentance, which is a religious notion and has no place in state-to-state relations," Sarkozy said in an interview with the Algerian newspapers El Watan and El Khabar published Tuesday.
"The younger generations, on both sides of the Mediterranean, ... are not expecting their leaders to torture themselves in battling their guilt for the errors or mistakes of the past, because on this account, there would be a lot to do on both sides," he was quoted as saying.
"That is not to say that we should cover up the past, since any grand nation ... should come to terms with its history, with its light and its dark sides.
"Certainly there were many dark sides, sufferings and injustices during the 132 years that France spent in Algeria, but there wasn't only this," he continued.
Long a thorny issue, France's colonial past came under the spotlight in 2005 after the ruling conservative party - which Sarkozy led - championed a law citing the positive effects of colonialism. The contentious language was later removed, but many nations remain bitter, and France's relations with Algeria have been tense ever since.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whom Sarkozy is to meet Tuesday, has long demanded that France apologize for colonial-era crimes. Algeria was the jewel in France's colonial crown, and won its independence in 1962 after a brutal war.
"The work of memory should continue," Sarkozy said in the interview, but "on both sides." "This is the only way we can advance, bit by bit, toward a common reading of history."
He said he would push for cooperation between the two nations' archives.