Whether it's videos of him acting drunk or angry, or Web sites publishing reports of text messages he may or may not have sent his ex-wife, the Internet has not always been kind to Nicolas Sarkozy. But with all that he has on his plate, how can the French president possibly keep track of all the possibly damaging material about him that circulates on the web?
That's where Nicolas Princen comes in. Nicknamed "Sarkozy's eye," the 24-year-old has been hired to act as "a sort of Internet early warning system, surveying everything that is making a buzz regarding the President." Princen cut his chops maintaining this online video site for Sarkozy, which includes an intro that would make Kim Jong-il blush. While I understand that life can be rough for public figures in the YouTube era, a better strategy for Sarkozy might just be to stop making a fool of himself in public.
The Iraq war has killed the American "magic," says French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner:
Asked whether the United States could repair the damage it has suffered to its reputation during the Bush presidency and especially since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kouchner replied, "It will never be as it was before." "I think the magic is over," he continued, in what amounted to a sober assessment from one of the strongest supporters in France of the United States. U.S. military supremacy endures, Kouchner noted, and the new president "will decide what to do - there are many means to re-establish the image." But even that, he predicted, "will take time."
In a sense, Dr. Kouchner is right: The United States' reputation has been badly dented (for both fair and unfair reasons) and will need time to recover. But there is something remarkably ahistorical about the premise that pre-GWOT America had the world in a spell. I've recently been rereading accounts of the outrage that sundry past American activities created (see, for example, Vietnam, support for Israel, the Grenada invasion, the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe, the bombing of Libya, and the invasion of Panama). It's easy to forget the depth of antipathy to past American policies. After a 1983 U.N. Security Council meeting at which dozens of countries condemned America for its forays in Central America, the Libyan ambassador crowed that "America has no friends!" It has often seemed that way. America's "magic" will ebb and flow, but it hasn't run dry.
Apologizing is never easy. That's why you get others to do it for you -- if you're the president of
Sarkozy offered his hand to a man who said: "Don't touch me, you are soiling me." In reply, Sarkozy said, without dropping his smile: "Get lost, dumb ass."
Watch the incident here:
In an interview following the incident, a journalist from Le Parisien asked the president if he thought his reaction on Saturday appropriate. Sarkozy would not excuse himself for his heated reaction -- so his office did it for him, inserting an apology into the version of the interview to be published. Despite Sarkozy's silence on the matter, the interview that appeared in Le Parisien on Tuesday quoted him as saying, "It would have been better if I had not responded to him."
Apparently, it's common practice for French politicians to edit their own interviews before publication. Recalling interviews with Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterrand, a journalist present at the Sarkozy interview said:
Sarkozy changes rather less. At least he doesn't touch the questions."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's already declining popularity went into a precipitous free-fall over the weekend, and he seems to be taking political allies and family members down with him. The latest victim of Sarkozy's whims is presidential spokesman David Martinon, for whom the President had personally secured the nomination of his party, the UMP, in the election for mayor of Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine, Sarkozy's former office. The president's intervention in the race wasn't popular to begin with, and Martinon's poll numbers sank accordingly. Then this weekend, the president's 21-year-old son, Jean Sarkozy, announced he was no longer supporting Martinon and would form a rival UMP campaign along with two allies. The publicly humiliated Martinon dropped out of the race.
With Sarkozy out of the country in South America at the time, Jean's move certainly seemed like a political hit orchestrated on his father's behalf. The Neuilly affair, with its soap opera overtones (The French press has dubbed it Dallas-sur-Seine.) could not have come at a worse time for Sarkozy, who is also embroiled in a tabloid scandal over text messages he may or may not have sent his ex-wife Cecilia immediately before his recent marriage to singer and former model Carla Bruni. On Monday, Sarkozy's approval rating sank to 39 percent, a 19 point drop since December.
Sarkozy's brash style, which was once his greatest selling point for French voters frustrated by years of political paralysis, appears to have lost its appeal. This may also be part of the reason for his shift away from the controverisal "Anglo-Saxon" economic reforms he emphasized during the first years of his presidency toward the amorphous, socialist-ish, "policy of civilization" he laid out in a speech in January.
But Sarkozy is going to have trouble enacting policies from the right or the left unless he can get his house in order and find a way convince voters that he is neither a distracted dilettante nor a petty autocrat. It's good news for everyone that Jean will not be running for mayor in Martinon's place, as many had predicted, and it would probably be best if the chip-off-the-old-block kept a low profile for a while. As for Martinon, his offer to resign as the elder Sarkozy's spokesman was rejected, so he now has the unenviable job of helping restore the public image of the boss who publicly humiliated him.
What's going on in Chad, the world's #5 failed state? The AP reports that rebel forces allegedly tied to the Sudanese government have resumed their bloody assault on N'Djamena. The Chadian capital is held by government troops backing strongman Idriss Déby. But what are they fighting about? Harvard's Alex de Waal explains at length on his blog, "Making Sense of Darfur." The worst is yet to come, he warns:
The war for Chad is not over. It is likely to become more bloody and involve a wider humanitarian disaster before any solutions can be grasped. The next week will be critical for the future of the country–and for the wider region, including Darfur, as well.
The French, proving once again that tolerance for friendly authoritarians is not an American invention, are backing Déby to the hilt. The trouble, De Waal warns, is that Déby may seize the opportunity to engineer "a massacre of the civilian opposition." If that happens, what will newlywed Nicolas Sarkozy and his bleeding-heart foreign minister, Doctors Without Borders founder Bernard Kouchner, do about it?
The Guardian has quite the awkward typo/Freudian slip today in its write-up of Nicolas Sarkozy's marriage to Carla Bruni over the weekend.
Relieved officials from Sarkozy's ruling UMP party yesterday hoped the quick wedding and Bruni's new official status would stem his plummeting approval ratings. At 41%, they are his lowest ratings since his election - and owe much to his slowness to push through convincing economic reforms and his very pubic romance.
We'll leave it at that.
Thanks to eagle-eyed Passport reader RM for the tip.
It seems the world has found a new hero in Jérôme Kerviel, the "rogue" French trader who helped lose more than $7 billion of Société Générale funds last week when he allegedly exposed nearly $74 billion to risk without anyone else's knowledge. The chastened French bank duly posted an "explanatory note about the exceptional fraud" on its Web site, but not everyone is engaging in the same type of public hand-wringing.
In fact, a number of Internet groups have already emerged to canonize Kerviel for his dastardly feat, according to Charles Bremner of The Times of London. His fans consist of two camps: banking industry folks, who mercilessly mock the French traders for missing such a large fraud—most likely due to their harrowing 30-hour work weeks—and French anti-capitalist types who delight in any anti-establishment activities conducted by the new Che Guevara of the finance world.
The overnight star even has his own fan group on Facebook: "Jerome Kerviel should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics." And ladies, click here to buy your "Jérôme Kerviel's Girlfriend" T-shirts.
Trying to plan a trip to Lyon, France, but all the hotels are booked? You'll soon have an alternative. Dubai has signed a deal with Lyon to build a clone of the French city renowned as a gastronomy capital and the place where cinema was born.
The Lyon replica, dubbed "Lyon-Dubai City," will feature cafes, squares, museums, and restaurants, all built on a patch of land about the size of Paris's Latin Quarter. The Lyon clone is the brainchild of a Dubai businessman who was inspired to "re-create Lyon's soul" while planning a French-language university in Dubai, with the University of Lyon as partner.
This is hardly the first time a piece of Europe has been cloned. In the United States, there's Paris Las Vegas, there's a one-third replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Kings Island theme park, and of course Disney's Epcot has its "World Showcases." In China, the Eiffel Tower has again been re-created, and entire real estate developments there copy European villas, including "Venice Aquatic City," complete with canals and gondolas.
As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In addition to "Anglo-Saxon" economic policies and a tabloid-baiting personal life, "Sarko the American," as the French president is somewhat derisively known, has adopted another habit of U.S. politicians: the frequent use of religious rhetoric in his speeches.
In Saudi Arabia the day before, Mr. Sarkozy infused a speech with more than a dozen references to God, a very un-French thing to do, because France prides itself on its strict separation of church and state.
Praising Saudi Arabia for its strong religious base, Mr. Sarkozy referred to God, "who does not enslave man, but liberates him, God who is the rampart against unbridled pride and the folly of men."
Sarkozy also praised his Saudi hosts as leaders who "appeal to the basic values of Islam to combat the fundamentalism that negates them." From an American president, such remarks would probably be viewed as mere politeness, but Sarkozy's praise for the Muslim theocracy has provoked outrage from his political opponents. Socialist Party chairman François Hollande, (who happens to be the ex-"civil partner" of Sarkozy's election rival Ségolène Royal) has accused Sarkozy of cynically "making religion an instrument for the promotion of French products." It may have worked. Sarkozy left Saudi Arabia with a new energy deal.
This isn't the first time Sarkozy has pushed the limits of France's strict laïcité policy on separation of church and state. In a December visit to the Vatican, he stressed the need to "accept the Christian roots of France... while defending secularism." In response, Le Monde ran a cartoon featuring Sarkozy dressed as a bishop and George Bush remarking to the Pope, "I think this guy is stealing my job."
Bush shouldn't worry. Despite the French grumbling, Sarkozy still has a long way to go before he matches the religious rhetoric of even the most liberal American politicians. The role of Christian leader would also be a tough sell for a twice-divorced "cultural Catholic" living in sin with a former supermodel. Then again, maybe he and Rudy should compare notes.
Last week, I blogged about how Florencia Kirchner, the 17-year-old daughter of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was going wild online. Alert Passport reader Adam Pitman has brought to our attention that two of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's sons have been engaging in antics, too.
Pierre Sarkozy, 23, a hip-hop producer who goes by "Mosey," has written a song for Poison, a French anti-Sarkozy rapper who last year rapped, "Anti-Sarko, anti-right, Nicolas don't you hear. We're anti-you."
Poison described his dealings with Mosey by saying:
I'm not a Sarkozy guy, I don't give a s***. He does good sh**. I didn't know at the start that it was the son of Sarko. When I found out, I blew a fuse and phoned him. He said 'Yeah, but Poison, I didn't wanna tell you 'cos you wouldn't wanna hang out wid me no more.' I told him, hey, no problem. You never done me wrong. We'll bust nobody's balls, we'll just do good stuff.
As for Pierre's brother Jean, 20, he stands accused of driving his scooter into a BMW and failing to stop afterward.
None of this may faze Daddy Sarko, though. According to comments attributed to his ex-wife, Cécilia (who is not the mother of Pierre and Jean), the French president is "a man who likes no-one, not even his children."
European military commanders have formally approved an EU mission to Chad and the Central African Republic. The mission, to protect and aid refugees from Darfur, has a Security Council mandate and, by most accounts, could help stabilize a dangerous situation.
But there is a danger that France—and perhaps Europe more broadly—is developing a perverse specialty: cleaning up after crimes it doesn't have the will to stop. European peacekeepers labored for several hard years protecting humanitarian aid deliveries in Bosnia as ethnic cleansing proceeded around them. And remember that it was the French who sent a military mission to protect refugees after the Rwanda genocide. That mission, Opération Turquoise, saved some lives (including the lives of many who committed the genocide), but was a pale shadow of the rescue mission that should have been launched weeks earlier.
My fear is that the combination of feel-good war crimes prosecutions and post hoc band-aid operations like this new one in Chad have sapped the will to take the needed hard measures.
The soap opera that French politics has become just keeps getting better and better:
President Nicolas Sarkozy's ex-wife Cécilia has branded him a "stingy philanderer" with a "behavioural problem" who is an "unworthy president" of France... Mrs Sarkozy alleged that her 52-year-old ex-husband was "a man who likes no-one, not even his children".
Here I was thinking that "Anglo-Saxon" economic proposals, anathema in a country reared on statism, were driving down Nicolas Sarkozy's popularity. Turns out it's his relationship with his new girlfriend, shown above with the French president in front of Egypt's Giza pyramids:
It is called the "Carla effect," and it helps explain President Nicolas Sarkozy's sudden decline in popularity.
Far from endearing Mr. Sarkozy to his people, his paparazzi romance with the model-turned-singer Carla Bruni has fueled criticism that he is ignoring the country and spending too much time having fun. [...]
According to a nationwide poll by the research group CSA published on Sunday, only 48 percent of the French surveyed said they trust the president to run the country — a fall of seven points in a month. "President Sarkozy is exposing his flamboyant personal life at the moment the French want him to deliver on his promises to improve the economy," said Stéphane Rozès, the director of CSA, in a telephone interview. "He has eliminated the line between public and private life, between his success in his personal life and his promises for the French people to succeed."
Is there nowhere left in the world where you can wear a beret, drink a capuccino, discuss Sartre, and enjoy a cigarette? Sure seems like it. Last February, France enacted a law banning smoking in office, stores, schools, and hospitals. Totally makes sense. But starting January 1, the ban will be extended to bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and—gasp!—the café. Surprisingly, 66 percent of the French support the ban. But not everyone is happy:
People say that a café is the thermometer of a country," said Cécile Perez, 54, owner of La Fronde, a bar-tobacco store in the historic Marais district. "In a café, while we smoke, we meet new people, we exchange ideas, we learn, we listen, we talk about everything. If we stop that, what do we have left?"
France is just the latest to join a slew of places that have banned smoking in once-smoky areas. The state of California banned smoking in enclosed spaces in 1998. New York City did the same in 2002. Ireland became the first entire country to do so in 2004, followed by Italy in 2005. Sweden followed a few months later, then Denmark and Britain in the summer of 2007. After France, next up is Romania and the Netherlands in 2008. Mind you, none of these places are actually banning cigarettes. For that, you have to go to Bhutan—the only country today where the sale of tobacco is forbidden.
I grew up in healthy Boulder, Colorado where smoking is viewed on par with drinking a vat of bacon grease. I didn't even try my first cigarette until I was 21, and since then I've had probably one cigarette a year. But nevertheless, I actually do find the total ban to be a tad excessive. I think it's a good idea to forbid smoking in offices, hospitals and schools, and yes, even restaurants. But when I go to a bar, I kind of expect a little smoke.
My solution? Bars and cafes should apply for tobacco licenses just the way a they apply for liquor licenses. That way there will be some smoking places, and some non-smoking places. Those that want to indulge in their vice should have to pay a little extra fee. My plan protects people's health, it protects people's freedom, and the government gets a little extra income too. Everyone wins!
It may soon be time to cross Nicolas Sarkozy off the list of the most eligible world leaders. France's gossip rags are bursting with rumors that le président de la République is seeing Carla Bruni, a 39-year-old ex-model who once dated Mick Jagger. My favorite part of this story? Of all places to be seen together in public, France's new first couple selected Disneyland Paris.
I wouldn't exactly say Moammar el-Qaddafi has been the toast of Paris this week. In fact, whatever the opposite of "the toast" happens to be in this context, the Libyan leader was it. Here's a great shot of Qaddafi signing the guest book at Versailles:
This one's good, too. I mean really, the captions just write themselves. "Takes one to know one?"
Why exactly is Nicolas Sarkozy "calling to congratulate" Vladimir Putin on United Russia's widely discredited electoral victory? Putin always enjoyed a warm relationship with Jacques Chirac, but Sarkozy seemed to be less predisposed toward coddling dictators than his predecessor. This is certainly true of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stern tone with Russia couldn't be more different from Gerhard Schröder, another of Putin's European defenders. (And indeed, when he left office, Schröder became board chairman for a Gazprom pipeline project that he had boosted as chancellor.)
Sarkozy has also put France at odds with the EU, which issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Russia's elections "did not meet international standards and commitments voluntarily assumed by Moscow." Even new Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who has made improved relations with Moscow part of his platform, said, "we can't turn a blind eye when democratic standards are not respected."
Another interesting question: If Sarkozy is just playing realpolitik with the Russians, what does this say about the influence of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in the president's administration? The left-wing humanitarian has been one of Europe's staunchest critics of Putin's crackdown on opposition groups in recent weeks. Has France found its Colin Powell?
Tonight, Nicolas Sarkozy will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Yesterday, a few of us from FP attended Sarkozy's address to the French-American Business Council, where the French president touched on a number of themes you're likely to see in tonight's speech. The bottom line? Here's a man on a charm offensive.
While he praised the United States, Sarkozy's overall message, like that of many recent French presidents, is one of restoring France to its former position of international grandeur. But this French leader brings a new twist:
If you want to be an example, you have to behave like an example. We've fallen too far behind, but we're catching up."
Editor's Note: This post coauthored by Joshua Keating.
Toby Harnden, the London Telegraph's man in Washington, gets a juicy tidbit from an unnamed White House source who says Britain is no longer America's closest ally in Europe:
There's concern about [new British Prime Minister Gordon] Brown. But this is compensated by the fact that Paris and Berlin are much less of a headache. The need to hinge everything on London as the guarantor of European security has gone."
Harnden's source goes on to say there is "a lot of unhappiness" in the White House over how British forces have performed in Iraq:
Operationally, British forces have performed poorly in Basra. Maybe it's best that they leave. Now we will have a clear field in southern Iraq."
But if the Brits aren't America's special friend in Europe anymore, who has taken their place? Harnden quotes a British diplomat:
The new best friend is [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy."
You have to wonder how much of a factor Iran is here. Sarkozy and Bernard Kouchner, his foreign minister, have shown much more willingness to talk tough on Iran. In substance, the French remain reluctant to go to war over Iran, just as the British are. But then, style has always been more important to the Bush White House than substance.
Shimon Peres, Israel's president and former ... everything, denounced Columbia University this morning for hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday:
I think that Columbia University made a mistake ... With Hitler there was a dialogue. (British Prime Minister Neville) Chamberlain went to talk to him. What did it help? It helped cover the fact that Hitler prepared concentration camps and death camps."
Sure, Ahmadinejad may be strengthening his domestic position. But notice what happened today at the U.N.: French President Sarkozy called for "combining firmness with dialogue," reiterating his position, "if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region ad the world." And Germany's Angela Merkel came out in support of a new round of sanctions "if [Iran's] behavior doesn't change." She added, "Israel's security isn't negotiable," and referred to Ahmadinejad's history of comments on Israel as "inhumane".
These statements may well have been worked out on Friday, when the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany met in Washington to discuss the sanctions issue. But it sure was easier for Germany to toughen its stance after yesterday's farce at Columbia. Ahmadinejad had a chance to come across as a moderate, undercutting the unity of the EU3. Instead, he came across as a buffoon not ready for prime time. We'll see if he acquits himself better here at the U.N. in a few minutes, but suffice it to say that Iran is back on its heels today.
Recently, Passport noted a very interesting tidbit from Der Spiegel: French President Nicholas Sarkozy apparently suggested that "perhaps the Germans would consider taking a political stake in the French atomic arsenal."
Der Spiegel appears to be the only source for this assertion, which could actually have several interpretations. Der Spiegel itself interpreted it as a suggestion that France might physically host nuclear weapons on German soil, but derided the idea as "pointless" and just another in a series of Sarkozy’s gaffes that have "surprised, stymied, annoyed, and flabbergasted" German leaders.
The magazine failed to note, however, that such an offer would not be without precedent, since Germany has hosted U.S. nuclear warheads for decades (for use by NATO forces). All but a handful have been withdrawn, but somewhere around 20 remain, probably at Ramstein Air Force Base. Hosting French nuclear weapons in a similar manner would not suddenly make Germany a nuclear power—which makes the German response, that "Germany did not seek to become a nuclear power," all the more perplexing.
Perhaps this incident is really a story about European integration, which has often been driven forward by a Franco-German "engine" of cooperation. One of the most difficult sticking points of integration in the European Union has always been defense capabilities—of which nuclear weapons are perhaps the most difficult, for obvious reasons.
Even in the context of integration, though, the facts on this incident are too vague to come to any firm conclusions. Perhaps Sarkozy is trying to jumpstart the integration process, in the face of possible new referendums on a new EU constitution. Perhaps he was trying to position France, as opposed to Britain, as the critical guarantor of the EU's security. Either way, the nuclear aspect of cooperation in Europe will be an area to watch in coming years.
The French and the Germans have cooperated on many fronts since the end of World War II. Their partnership is largely credited with driving economic growth in Europe, and both countries champion further European integration. Now, French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to take the relationship to a whole new level.
According to a report in Der Spiegel, Sarkozy, in a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, asked if Germany would be interested in some French nuclear weapons. Der Spiegel explains the German reaction thusly:
Both the chancellor and her foreign minister were speechless. The idea of possessing nuclear weapons is taboo in Germany. Sarzoky's predecessor Jacques Chirac cautiously brought up the issue 12 years ago, but he quickly realized it was pointless to pursue it.
Steinmeier eventually explained that as Germany had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; it wasn't interested in French nukes. Merkel said nothing.
Sarkozy's offer is the latest in a series of odd incidents between the French and the Germans. For instance, Sarkozy asked Merkel to force German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück to publicly apologize for contradicting the French president at an EU meeting over the independence of the Central European Bank. Merkel told Sarkozy she couldn't reprimand Steinbrück, as he was articulating German policy.
Disputes over more substantive issues like Iraq have also emerged. The Germans were miffed when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Baghdad recently to express support for U.S. policy. Berlin was also upset by France's nuclear agreement with Libya. Both were done without consultation.
What does this new dynamic between France and Germany mean for the rest of Europe? Der Speigel says it best: "It's possible that Europe's legendary Franco-German motor might shift into neutral for a while."
Friday marks the kick-off of the Rugby World Cup, which to sports fanatics here in the United States probably means... absolutely nothing. But avid rugby fans all over the world have been anxiously awaiting these next six weeks, when teams from 20 different countries will put in their mouth guards, hike up their short shorts, and prepare to battle it out for the championship. However, the biggest face-off so far has been between the International Rugby Board, the sport's governing body, and the press. A dispute over media restrictions has led to a boycott of the event by top news agencies such as Agence France-Presse, Reuters, and the Associated Press. As of Friday, top newspapers like the Guardian and French sports daily l'Equipe had joined in solidarity. The biggest sticking point has been restrictions placed by organizers on the use of internet photos: They are only allowing 50 photos to be transmitted during each match, which have new agencies less than pleased. So far, the boycott has only affected several pre-tournament events, but there has been pressure to quickly hammer out an agreement between the two obstinate sides before the tournament goes into full swing. News agencies hope that fear of shrinking coverage for sponsors will give them some leverage with organizers. But the head of IRB media communication's response?
[Sponsors] only care about the TV audience ... they don't care about newspaper coverage.
That's harsh. But as the press stands together to defend "editorial integrity," they could end up alienating fans hungry for coverage of their favorite players. And as for the IRB, which has been concerned about not attracting the same level of global sponsors as events like the soccer World Cup or the Olympics, they definitely aren't getting the good sportsmanship award this year.
Because of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's un-French habit of "le jogging," you wouldn't expect the leader of France to have much blubber accumulating around his waist. And, indeed, Sarkozy doesn't appear to have any rolls of fat in a photo of him canoeing shirtless during a recent trip to the United States that the French magazine Paris Match published.
But that photo happens to have been airbrushed by the magazine to tighten what the French call poignées d'amour—or what Americans call "love handles."
The French newsweekly L'Express broke the news of the retouched photo by printing "before" and "after" pictures in which Sarkozy's bulge disappears. It also reported that Paris Match said the president's posture made the love handle bulge out more. So maybe he only has rolls when he slouches?
Makes me wonder if any airbrushing went into the recent love handle-free topless photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
France's chattering classes are agog at l'audace of Nicolas Sarkozy, who sent his wife Cécilia to Libya earlier this week. Cécilia flew to Tripoli to secure the dramatic release of five Bulgarian nurses in a deal that, in truth, had already been all but inked by more publicity-shy EU and Bulgarian negotiators. Back in 2006, the Bulgarians, the Libyans, and the European Union set up a fund for over 400 Libyan kids who had been infected with HIV. That was the vehicle through which this deal eventually worked, but Cécilia is getting most of the credit for her last-minute involvement. Miffed EU officials have, understandably, grumbled to the press about how the Sarkozys are stealing their diplomatic triumph.
But the French are actually getting away with more than mere publicity here. French companies are wasting no time cutting deals with the Libyans in the defense, oil, gas, and civilian nuclear sectors, with more likely on the way.
So what does Libya get? The nurses' harrowing tales of their internment certainly give Libyan jails a black eye, but the regime is getting the international recognition and investment it has long craved. No domestic reform necessary. Thus, the real long-term winner of Libya's euros-for-hostages deal may be not Sarkozy, but Seif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, the Western-educated son of the Libyan leader who was heavily involved in the negotiations over the Bulgarian nurses. You can bet that Seif is going to take his share of the proceeds, and that Libya's heir apparent has advanced his claim to the throne with this coup.
The man who is supposed to become Belgium's next prime minister apparently doesn't know his own country's national anthem. Yves Leterme, head of the Flemish Christian Democrats, said last year that French-speaking Belgians are either too stupid or too unwilling to learn the country's other main language, Flemish. Last Saturday, a TV reporter asked Leterme to sing Belgium's national anthem.
Leterme promptly began singing France's national anthem, "La Marseillaise."
The whole incident was caught on camera as Leterme was entering a church, and regardless of whether or not Leterme was joking, the gaffe isn't going to help him in being a unifying force to form a new government.
Leterme's blundering continued over the weekend when he said that Belgium's National Day—July 21, 1831—commemorates the "proclamation of the constitution." Actually, it marks the day when Leopold I became the country's first king. That gaffe may not have been as bad, though, since only one in five Belgians happens to know what the day commemorates.
If Leterme truly wants to be a uniter and not a divider, then he had better learn "La Brabançonne" fast.
Saint-Nazaire, FRANCE: "Bathduck", an inflatable giant duck made by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, with giant dimensions of 25 meters high and 32 meters large, is pictured 07 July 2007 in Saint-Nazaire harbour during a cultural event named "Estuary 2007" taking place all along the Loire River, from Nantes to Saint-Nazaire, until 01 September 2007.
Nicolas Sarkozy, perhaps the most pro-American president in French history, has been stirring up a furor in the French and British media this summer with his most right-wing activity of all: jogging. And to add insult to injury, he often runs in his favorite NYPD T-shirt.
Sarkozy seems to be confirming a French belief that jogging is an activity for self-absorbed individualists such as Americans, the Times of London reports. The editor of V02, a sports magazine, told the left-wing French newspaper Libération, "Jogging is of course about performance and individualism, values that are traditionally ascribed to the right." The Times writes that sports sociologist Patrick Mignon thinks that "French intellectuals have always held sports in contempt, while totalitarian regimes cultivated physical fitness." Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, a member of British Parliament who jogs, says:
Of course [jogging] is right-wing. … The very act of forcing yourself to go for a run, every morning, is a highly conservative business. There is the mental effort needed to overcome your laziness.
A leading French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, says Sarkozy should stop his un-French and "undignified" athletic activity, which involves the indecency of exposing one's knees. Finkielkraut thinks strolling is more cerebral and says, "Western civilization, in its best sense, was born with the promenade."
(Well, if sports are indeed right-wing, their health benefits certainly aren't showing up in the most conservative areas of the United States.)
During the recent race for the French presidency, much ado was made about the fact that the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, is a woman. Poll watchers were excited about the prospect of Royal bringing in other women into the cabinet and developing more female-friendly policies. But Royal lost the election.
However, her electoral nemesis, new French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has made good on his own promise for a more diverse France. When presenting his cabinet at the Elysée Palace last week, he ticked off the names of 11 women, three of them minorities:
Each of these women appear well-qualified for their positions, their gender and ethnicity being but side notes in their extensive biographies. Still, that hasn't stopped Sarko from proudly noting the diversity of his appointees, albeit in a rather awkward, and, moreover, factually incorrect way:
When I saw Rachida Dati in the Superior Council of the Judiciary on her red chair, a woman amongst all those men, I was moved," the president said. He complimented Yade on being like a "wild horse," and then gave her an even greater compliment. "There are only two black women on the international stage," he said. "The American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Rama Yade."
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