French love affair with Sarkozy is fading
Amid a high-profile romance with Italian supermodel Carla Bruni, the French president is facing tough questions and slipping in public opinion polls.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the perpetual-motion French president, has dipped significantly in the polls – to 48-percent approval – in the midst of an unusual, highly publicized new romance with supermodel-singer Carla Bruni and a likely marriage next month.Skip to next paragraph
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As Mr. Sarkozy is being splashed across the pages of French magazines and newspapers in the company of Ms. Bruni at Disneyland Paris and the Egyptian pyramids, he's also finding some tougher new questions about his performance, possible constraints on his promise to reform, and criticism about his jet-set image at a time when many French still feel that their economy is listing.
At his first official press conference this week at the Elysée palace in front of 600 journalists, Sarkozy sought to ameliorate the grumbling.
In fine French fashion, he set out lofty concepts over two hours about the importance of a great civilization, talked about an Internet tax, and the project of reforming the 35-hour work-week. He joked with the press for "waiting until the second question" to ask about his love life, and turned back their criticism of making his romance a Page 1 story by chiding them for sending photographers.
'The Carla effect'
French traditionally don't care, and don't want to know about, the private lives of their top office holders. Yet due to what is being called "the Carla effect," Sarkozy is losing some credit among ordinary French – a miscalculation by the palace, which is said to have hoped for a "glamour bounce."
"I think the French may be tiring of all the bling-bling," says a former adviser to French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. "Sarkozy is bling – he wears big Rolex watches, has bad shoes, and loves luxury and to flaunt it. Carla is not bling. She's old money, good clothes, comfortable in wealth. But Sarko is bling, and we're feeling it is a little too much right now."
Conservative French, the ballast of Sarkozy support, and especially older French, have not been impressed. The left, meanwhile, is critical of the symbolism of glitz when the cost of living is high.
On France Inter radio this week, the salary increase Sarkozy gave himself this fall brought a caller who said, "He got a 162 percent pay raise, and he didn't even have to go on strike."
To be sure, Sarkozy is nothing if not the first in most anything he does. He is the first youngish president in modern France, the first president from immigrant stock.
In his private affairs, he is the first divorced president coming into office and the first to be divorced in office when his wife, Cecilia, left him in September. If he marries Bruni, who formerly dated Mick Jagger, he will be the first to wed in office.
Given that President François Mitterand used to go on vacation in an official plane with his wife, and an unofficial plane with his mistress and unofficial family, Sarko is also the first to put his private life on display.