Friday, January 11, 2008

President in Love breaks a long tradition of French leaders

“French President Nicolas Sarkozy's glamorous love life does not appear to be boosting his approval ratings among voters frustrated by the lagging economy in France”

Critics have accused Sarkozy of publicizing his relationship with Bruni to divert attention from declining poll figures.

The maths was giddying - less than a year in office, barely three months after his divorce, Sarkozy was presenting his second first lady and his third wife. When Sarkozy lovingly uttered the word Carla from his platform in front of the French and European flags, he deliberately brought decades of French presidential precedent crashing around his shoulders.

Lovestruck Sarkozy Fends Off Critics

President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted Tuesday he may soon marry former model Carla Bruni, but polls suggest he's heading toward divorce with some of the voters who put him in power.
Many are irritated by Sarkozy's flaunting of his whirlwind affair with someone whose cast of past partners includes Mick Jagger and Donald Trump. And they question Sarkozy's use of a billionaire friend's private jet for the couple's vacation.

He's being called "President Bling Bling," and it's not a compliment among the taste-conscious French. Meanwhile, there's the sickly French economy to worry about.

Sarkozy appears to be losing his luster as he heads into what promises to be a tough year. On Tuesday, in his first full-fledged news conference since his election in May, Sarkozy deflected criticism of his lifestyle, his courting of hard-line world leaders, and his reforms to France's labor laws, universities and health care.

He basked, though, in confirming his relationship with Bruni.

The 40-year-old Italian-born former model, now a singer, first appeared publicly at the 52-year-old Sarkozy's side at Disneyland Paris last month. Then she joined him on vacation in Egypt and Jordan, where they were photographed arm-in-arm and often smiling.

"You've understood: It is serious," Sarkozy said. He suggested wedding plans are in the works, but stopped short of confirming reports of an early February ceremony.

"There is a strong chance that you will learn about it after it's already done," he said, with a grin.

Asked if they had already tied the knot, he raised his ring-less left hand, to a laughing audience including his full Cabinet and hundreds of reporters.

Sarkozy defended his decision to take the relationship public, saying he wanted to break with a long tradition of French leaders keeping their love lives hidden, with the media's tacit accord. He alluded to the late Francois Mitterrand, who kept the existence of a mistress and illegitimate daughter a secret for most of his 1981-95 presidency.

If Sarkozy-Bruni wedding bells chime, it would mark the first time a French president marries in office. Sarkozy became the first sitting French president to divorce when he split in October from his second wife Cecilia — like Bruni, a tall, dark-haired ex-model.

"Normally the Elysee (presidential palace) is a boring place where nothing ever happens, where there are men who wear ties, with wives they've had for 40 years and mistresses that they hide. This is a 'coup d'eclat' as has never before happened in France," said Loic Sellin, editor of popular magazine Voici.

He said the magazine's staff was "blown away" by Sarkozy's openness. "We're saying thank you," he said.

Not everyone is thrilled. More traditional voters and political commentators question whether Bruni — with her rich romantic history — is the appropriate spouse for a French president.

Some, especially traditional conservatives and working class voters who supported Sarkozy, have issues "with the way the president behaves," said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute of International Relations. It "is not what you'd expect from the president of France."

"The problem is the president mixes his private and his public life," Moisi said. "If it becomes a permanent fixture it becomes embarrassing."

Critics accuse Sarkozy of publicizing his relationship with Bruni — which has been front-page news in France for weeks — to detract attention from declining poll figures and economic woes.

Sarkozy's approval rating stands around 48 percent — a drop of seven points in a month, and a sharp departure from a high of 65 percent in July, according to a new poll from the CSA agency. The telephone poll surveyed 1,010 people aged 18 and older on Jan. 2-3. No margin of error was given.

"Sarkozy had a very long political honeymoon, and it is finally ending," said Pascal Perrineau, head of the Cevipof think tank.

Sarkozy defended his decision to invite Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to Paris, and his swift congratulations to Russian President Vladimir Putin after parliamentary elections heavily tilted in the ruling party's favor.

Sarkozy offered few solutions for French households feeling the pinch of stagnant salaries and economic growth that is expected to drop below 2 percent for 2007.

Socialist lawmaker Jean-Pierre Bel said Sarkozy's speech was "totally disconnected from the wishes of the French for 2008: more purchasing power."

Sarkozy made a few gestures to French workers, pledging state funds to protect strategic companies from foreign takeovers and pushing for all workers — not just executives — to have access to stock options.

Sarkozy declared that current measures of gross domestic product don't take into account the quality of life in France. To counter that, he announced he has recruited Nobel economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen to advise on a new method of measuring growth performance.

Sarkozy took some not-so-veiled digs at his predecessors and a sometimes mocking tone toward journalists.

In response to a query about his use of a jet belonging to French magnate Vincent Bollore for his vacation, Sarkozy snapped, "What do you prefer? That I travel on taxpayer money?"

Guardian 9 Jan Comments: As an expat living here for over thirty years, I watch the man with amazement. Every time that something goes wrong, there he is, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, throwing out quotable quotes, usually meaningless like the latest effort about "civilization", to take peoples' minds off the actual bone of contention. When the people react adversely to his suggestions, he digs his heels in and gets even more stubborn. He appears to be incapable of acknowledging an error, and leaves that to his largely powerless minions, who appear to be in the government solely to take the blame when it goes pear-shaped. There is a lot of laughter and sneering from people who can afford to laugh, but it is no fun for the ever increasing group of poorer people.
I think it is significant that since his election, I have only met one person who will admit to having voted for him, and one of those (female partner of a bombastic "trou de cul"), probably got bullied into it. It even appears that it is becoming more difficult to get people to take his side on excellent debate programmes like 'C'est dans l'Air" on ARTE.

Source: AP

No comments: