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An affair to remember

After a very public romance with his supermodel girlfriend at the Giza Pyramid, the French president has everyone guessing whether he will do an Egypt in India, writes Amit Baruah.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2008 20:44 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times

In his position, he is spoiled for choice. But I hope no one will think of marriage. I’ve had enough of brides,” Andree Sarkozy, 80, on her twice-divorced son Nicholas Sarkozy.

He’s the new star on the international horizon. At 52, Nicholas Sarkozy is making news not just because of his different approach to world politics. He’s getting saturation media coverage because the glamorous model-turned-singer Carla Bruni is at his side.

Whether he travels with “first girlfriend” Carla Bruni or without her, Sarkozy will be the cynosure of attention when he sets foot in India to attend Republic Day celebrations.

Doing it his own way

Sarkozy, elected as France’s President in May 2007, has already tried to be different in his conduct of international affairs, thinking nothing of striking business deals with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi or trying to get Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s help to
persuade Colombian guerrillas to free their hostages.

The son of a French mother and a Hungarian immigrant, Sarkozy grew up in Paris before moving on to the life in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris. At 26, he became a lawyer and then the mayor of Neuilly in 1983, and kept getting re-elected to the job for 19 years.
In 1993, he entered government for the first time as minister for the Budget and spokesman of then Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. Under President Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy worked as Interior and then Finance Minister.

A conservative in his approach to politics, Sarkozy, who admires former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, defeated the socialist (also glamorous) Segolene Royale to become President last year, showing that France was ready to embrace change.
But, more than his policies, it would appear that his personal life is of greater media interest. In October, Sarkozy divorced his stunning wife, Cecilia. And, in November, the Italian-born one-time supermodel Carla Bruni entered his life.

A very public affair

And, rather than hide their relationship, Sarkozy and Bruni made it very public by visiting Disneyland on a weekend. “Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni wanted people to know. Otherwise, I don’t know why they would have gone to Disneyland to look at the Mickey Mouse parade,” Colombe Pringle, editor of Point de Vue magazine, was quoted as saying.

Bruni, who is reported to have had relationships with musicians Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and American real estate magnate Donald Trump, made her
romance with Sarkozy very, very public by posing for photographers during a Christmas vacation in Egypt.

“Mme Bruni has long been listed among the world’s most beautiful women. With what she called her ‘kitty eyes’ and her high, wide cheekbones, she bears a startling resemblance to…Cecilia Sarkozy,” The Independent wrote about her on December 18.

Some have taken a rather dim view of Sarkozy’s very public love affair with Bruni, arguing that this was a departure from French tradition. From across the channel, The Observer, in a less than charitable assessment, argued that Sarkozy had floated the presidency on the “free market of tabloid popularity instead of keeping its value pegged to time-honoured tradition”.

“France voted for Mr Sarkozy in the expectation that he would shake things up. To do that, he needs to build a personal mandate for change, which means embracing the politics of personality, using charisma as a battering ram against the status quo.

“But Mr Sarkozy’s approach carries high risk. If he does not use the celebrity limelight effectively, his credibility will be in shreds. He may yet be a French Blair — a serial election winner who transformed his country. Or he could turn himself into what French slang calls a ‘blaireau’ — a poseur and a loser,” the paper added.

Calling on the world

It’s too early to come to such conclusions. But, in all the celeb talk, Sarkozy the President will finally matter to the world — especially his foreign policy direction. Speaking to 180 French ambassadors in August, Sarkozy identified three challenges: how to prevent a conflict between Islam and the West, integrate China, India and Brazil into the new global world order and dealing with the challenges of global warming, pandemics and energy security.

“There’s no point in waffling: this confrontation is being called for by extremist groups such as al-Qaeda that dream of establishing a caliphate from Indonesia to Nigeria, rejecting all openness, all modernity, every hint of diversity. If these forces were to achieve their sinister objective, it is certain that the 21st century would be even worse than the last one, itself marked by merciless confrontation between ideologies,” Sarkozy
said bluntly.

According to him, since 1990, the bipolar confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union had disappeared; the very concepts of Third World and Non-Alignment had lost their meaning.

Reiterating French support for India, Brazil, Germany and Japan to enter the UN Security Council as permanent members, with a fair representation for Africa, Sarkozy also wanted that the G8 club should transform itself into the G13, which would include China, India, Brazil, Mexico and
South Africa.

“The dialogue conducted during recent summits with the top leaders of China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa should be institutionalised and scheduled for an entire day. The G8 can’t meet for two days and the G13 for just two hours. That doesn’t seem fitting, given the power of these five emerging countries. I hope that bit by bit, the G8 becomes the G13,” Sarkozy proposed.

He’s a man with new ideas. The question is: can he deliver?