French Leader Sarkozy's Honeymoon Fades

President Nicolas Sarkozy has returned from his summer vacation with a golden tan but somewhat sapped of his superstar glow.

French Leader Sarkozy's Honeymoon Fades
The hope he inspired with promises of changing the way France works has turned to worry amid turmoil in world markets and lackluster economic growth figures—causing his stellar support ratings to slip slightly.

To make matters worse, his office has been embarrassed by the revelation that his love handles were airbrushed out of photos of the swimsuit-clad president during his vacation in the U.S.

True to form, though, Sarkozy is not letting any of these setbacks slow him down.

One hundred days into his presidency, Sarkozy had lunch Thursday with labor leader Francois Chereque in a bid to smooth relations with unions itching to protest Sarkozy's plans to reform state pensions and redesign France's worker-friendly employment contracts.

On Friday, Sarkozy heads to southwest France to meet anti-terrorist officers, fishermen suffering from poaching and tourism officials hurt by a cold and rainy summer.

His young presidency has been action-packed. His government pushed through income tax cuts and laws that encourage the French to work more hours to minimize the effect of strikes and tighten punishment for repeat criminal offenders.

That was just on the domestic stage. Abroad, he has improved relations with the United States, taken a role in freeing Bulgarian nurses imprisoned in Libya, and revived efforts for an EU constitution.

Now comes the hard part: pushing through his most painful reforms at what appears to be the tail-end of an extraordinary political honeymoon.

"A man in politics and in the center of power cannot stay permanently at the top in popularity ratings," said Vincent Tiberj, specialist in electoral politics at the Center for Political Research in Paris. He predicted Sarkozy's ratings would continue to decline.

Sarkozy's ratings are still relatively high, at 61 percent according to a poll this week by Ipsos, but have been dropping steadily in recent weeks.

On Friday the president will present his plans for the next stage of economic reforms, including making work contracts more flexible and further eroding union powers—ideas anathema to the French left. He also needs to decide whether to go through with a highly sensitive sales tax that hurt his conservative party in legislative elections in June.

Labor leader Chereque predicted a "very intense" September.

"The social problems in our country are very serious. Negotiations and points of friction are numerous. We're not at risk of getting bored," he said after his lunch with Sarkozy.

Already, Sarkozy has been forced into compromise. A law on university reform fell short of the broad autonomy he had wanted for the educational institutions. The strike law was softened, and cutbacks on public sector workers were curtailed.

Meanwhile, turmoil on world financial markets has revived French fears of globalization, and put a damper on their enthusiasm for Sarkozy's market-friendly reforms.

Also, French economic growth slowed to just 0.3 percent in the second quarter, denting hopes of a strong European recovery and reducing the French government's room for maneuver in reining in the deficit.

"After the grace period, there will be the state's bill to pay," said Socialist Party chief Francois Hollande.

With pocketbook politics first on French minds, Sarkozy's expensive vacation in the U.S. prompted the opposition Socialists to demand to know who was paying for his stay in a mansion owned by a former Apple Corp. executive.

The vacation was further tainted by retouched images of Sarkozy in a swimsuit on a New Hampshire lake that appeared in French magazine Paris-Match without his "poignees d'amour," or love handles. His office denied Thursday that it had asked the magazine to fiddle with the photos, but the damage was already done.

Associated Press
Last Mod: 24 Ağustos 2007, 12:22
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