Sarkozy prom­ises ‘strong France’ as he loses en­dear­ment of vot­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY KARINE G. BARZE­GAR

PARIS | On the walls of No. 18, Rue de la Con­ven­tion, a huge bill­board bear­ing Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy’s pro­file notes his new slo­gan: “A Strong France.”

In­side cam­paign head­quar­ters, about 30 staff mem­bers work to spread the word. Most are young, but they have long been a part of the Sarkozy suc­cess story — which many in France think is about to come to an end.

“At the mo­ment, it seems that a ma­jor­ity of the French want to get rid of a pres­i­dent who has fallen from grace,” said Do­minique Moisi, se­nior ad­viser at the French In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, a Paris think tank.

“The hand­i­cap for Ni­co­las Sarkozy is big. It’s not his record. It’s him. In the end, he is not loved. The French don’t like him; they find him ner­vous, ex­ces­sive. They need re­as­sur­ance, and he doesn’t re­as­sure them.”

In May 2007, Mr. Sarkozy won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion against So­cial­ist can­di­date Se­go­lene Royal and took of­fice as one of the most pop­u­lar pres­i­dents since World War II hero Charles de Gaulle. Then, he em­bod­ied

ac­tion and change. In Fe­bru­ary 2008, he fur­ther bur­nished his im­age when he mar­ried Ital­ian-born su­per­model Carla Bruni.

Now the equa­tion has changed as Mr. Sarkozy seeks a sec­ond term.

Not only does Mr. Sarkozy, 57, suf­fer from a se­ri­ous im­age prob­lem, but he also needs to con­vince vot­ers that he has been suc­cess­ful in han­dling the eco­nomic and debt cri­sis, even though it has led to un­pop­u­lar aus­ter­ity mea­sures and a loss of France’s AAA bond rat­ing in Jan­uary.

“To­day we have the lead­er­ship on ideas. The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal de­bates re­volve around Ni­co­las Sarkozy’s ideas, not around those stem­ming from the op­po­si­tion,” said Franck Lou­vrier, com­mu­ni­ca­tion coun­selor and one of the pres­i­dent’s clos­est aides.

“‘A strong France’ is the vi­sion of a coun­try that can pro­tect the French, whereas the only idea [his op­po­nents] have is ‘change.’ But change is just a po­lit­i­cal act, it’s not a vi­sion for the fu­ture.”

Strength ver­sus change

LEADER OF THE PACK: So­cial­ist Party can­di­date Fran­cois Hol­lande has sur­passed Mr. Sarkozy in polls even though he has never held elec­tive of­fice in France.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, cam­paign­ing for re-elec­tion in the Basque city of Bay­onne, took refuge last week when his visit was dis­rupted by a bois­ter­ous crowd.

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