Why Sarkozy is down in the dumps

by Michael Johnson Michael Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He is now based in Bordeaux, France, where he writes for the International Herald-Tribune and other publications. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine. In 1990 he was appointed chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique where he worked as Editorial Director for two years. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of four books and recently edited “24/7 Innovation” for an Accenture consultant and “Nokia: The Inside Story”, written by historian Martti Haikio, for the Nokia Corporation. A fluent French speaker, he also speaks Russian. 23.01.2009

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not a happy man. All evidence indicates that his ascendancy as the world's leading peacemaker and problem-solver is over.

For 18 months, he has focused his presidency on restoring French influence in world affairs, with initiatives spanning the globe. His political fans cheered him on, as he sought to prove that France is more than a land of 62 million navel-gazers who shy away from confrontation.

In some circles in France, his many frantic initiatives made him a figure of fun. French political cartoons often portray him as a delusional modern Napoleon eager to take on the world.

But his star seems to be descending:

-- His six-month presidency of the European Union has expired, depriving him of a wider platform.

-- The cease-fire he negotiated between Russia and Georgia has turned out to be messy and only partially implemented.

-- His global efforts to reform international finance "by the end of November" were considered unrealistic and have sputtered.

-- The Charm el-Cheikh summit on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, co-chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was hijacked at the end by an English-speaker, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who became the media face of the event.

-- His political opposition is openly seeking to wound him, recently standing up in parliament to sing "La Marseillaise" in opposition to his government's attempt to limit the duration of debate.

Nothing seems to be working for him.

Sarkozy is a tough customer and could perhaps stomach all the above, but now he finds himself pushed further into the shadows by new U.S. President Barack Obama, a bigger man from a bigger country.

Sarkozy is said to feel snubbed by Obama despite vigorous efforts to arrange a meeting or at least a photo opportunity in Washington but he has been unable to get on Obama's schedule since the U.S. election November 4. Sarkozy's congratulatory note to Obama, tardy and lukewarm, last week is seen here as no accident. The note said:

"I would like to offer in my own name and that of the French people, my wishes for full success in your role as leader of the American nation."

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned in a media interview that Obama could not work miracles. " Barack Obama does not have a magic wand," he said. "I think we should not expect him to immediately solve all America's problems, nor ours."

The French press jumped on the restrained language.

"You could feel the careful wording of a person who has been refused entry," wrote one French commentator who has been covering the presidency. "There is nostalgia for the recent past in which Nicolas Sarkozy made the most of his '15 minutes as an American'".

Asked by a journalist after the Gaza negotiations how he regarded President Obama, Sarkozy was reported to grit his teeth and snap, "If he wants to change the world, good luck to him."

One Sarkozy adviser is quoted in the French press as saying "We cannot expect any more from Obama than from any other American president."

Sarkozy may have fallen off Obama's radar when he made a visit to the George Bush family estate in Maine shortly after his election to the French presidency. Thereafter, he portrayed himself as a great friend of Bush and the United States.

Some observers have been less diplomatic. Said one woman who follows Sarkozy's fortunes: "As the French expression goes, 'Il a peté plus haut que son cul.' ('He has farted above the level of his own arse.")


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