At the end of the G20 summit last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a press conference that he was « happy » with the accomplishments made by the 20 leaders, mainly with the new international financial system regulation, which « goes even beyond what we could have imagined. I have never seen anything like that!», he added.
But two worlds (or should we say two visions of the same world) opposed each other before and during the G20. Nicolas Sarkozy’s (little nervous Frenchman, slightly isolated in the world, but with an idol: Napoleon…) and Barack Obama’s (coupled with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, they end up looking a bit like Laurel and Hardy…).
The gap between the two men is not new. This War of the Worlds started last November, after Obama’s great victory at the Presidential election.
Since his was elected President of France, Sarkozy was able to enchant, to charm the crowds. Amongst is “new” friends one could count celebrities, sports idols, cinema stars, journalists, entrepreneurs, etc. All the media on the planet discovered suddenly the young (52 years old when he got elected) president who was to govern France.
After hitting misfortune with his marriage, and despite being President, Sarkozy divorces! Nobody expected it to happen and the attention was once again focused on him. Whenever he would travel abroad alone then, newspapers would talk about the President. A rumour even talked of him seeing a Top Model from Eastern Europe for a while…
But when Sarkozy, who became for many a kind of single playboy President whose heart was available, appeared at Disneyland Paris with a former Top Model called Carla Bruni, the whole planet wowed him! Thereafter, their discrete wedding at the Presidential Palace of l’Élysée, their meetings with foreign officials abroad or at home, everything the couple was doing was of interest to everyone. One would talk about them every day in every single house and bistro in France, either to worship them or criticise them.
CARLA “KENNEDY” AND NICOLAS “BLING-BLING”
Some newspapers even referred to Carla as “the new Jackie Kennedy”, while critics were calling Nicolas “Mister Bling-Bling” (mocking his way of showing off very openly his wealth: wearing Rolex watches or Ray-Ban sunglasses, having dinner at Fouquet’s on the night of his election victory, enjoying sunny holidays thoroughly paid by his entrepreneurs friends).
And the first French “people” President started to think bigger and travelled all over the world to spread the good word, i.e. he was the “Saviour of the World”. Didn’t he give lessons to other world leaders at the United Nations, in New York? Didn’t he create a new treaty to save the European Union from sinking? (Well, the Irish people voted against it in their referendum, but Sarkozy still believes it will happen anyway…)
In a nutshell, the Sarkozys - husband and wife - had become the likes of Marmite, “Love them or Hate them”!
SARKO, THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT
Nicolas Sarkozy’s friends and enemies also used to call him “Sarkozy, the American” since he is said to be a passionate supporter of Atlanticism and of Mercantilism. The socialist opposition in France accused him of being a «dissembled American neoconservatist with a French passport».
It is true that Sarkozy has always paraded very proudly with his great friend George W. Bush! He also always stepped forward to show to the Americans that France had changed since he was in charge. That France was following the same path as America. That France was even America’s second best friend! (After Britain obviously…)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
But everything changed when Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States! On 4th November 2008, the American people chose to definitely turn their back to the George W. Bush years, and elected their first ever Afro-American president. That is the day Sarkozy will remember forever… because from that day on, the French President would never more attract the media in the same way!
Barack and Michelle Obama became the centre of the attention. It was their turn. There was no way for Sarkozy to get back the momentum. With a deep and long recession looming in the horizon, the American couple was the real symbol of hope for the United States and for the world. Yes, they would!
But Sarkozy’s new “Franco-American friendship”, which he tried so very hard to build with Bush, would not survive to it. Sarkozy’s mood was now on the “Selfishness Mode”. No more step forward. No effort. No let go.
If it was yet a bit difficult to understand the reason for such a quick change of the French relationship towards America, one could simply read the press to finally comprehend it… In December 2008, Time Magazine published its “Time Person of the Year” ranking - Sarkozy was third, Barack Obama was first. Newsweek also published its “50 Most Powerful people of the Year” with Sarkozy being third again and Barack Obama number one.
The only vision and only strategy for France became suddenly obvious to Nicolas Sarkozy: France has to be original, genuine, leading, powerful… and in all manners: different from Obama’s America! If Obama was to say that the sky is blue, then Sarkozy would say that, to his knowledge, it’s grey!
G20: THE BATTLEFIELD
Therefore, before his meeting with the other 19 Heads of States for the G20 summit, in London, the French President spoke to the press to let them believe that if no agreement was to appear before the end of the summit, he would leave an empty seat and go back home.
Then he organised a joint press conference with his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to reaffirm to everyone that the Franco-German old guard was back on the international stage, and that they could solidly counter-balance Obama’s American-British alliance.
When the G20 started, he showed up without his wife (some commentators since talked of a disappointing snobbism from Carla, who would not have stood by the comparison with Michelle Obama!). When the G20 ended, Sarkozy started his press conference at the exact same time as the British Prime minister Gordon Brown, the host of the summit! He also stood proud before the journalists and as victorious as Napoleon was when he entered Milan in triumph on 15th May 1796 riding his horse called Bijou (which means “jewel”). According to him, everyone had to agree that Sarkozy himself was in effect the jewel of the G20 since he was the one who wanted at all costs a new international financial system regulation, not Obama!
THE “NATO STRATEGY”
Ironically, once the G20 ended, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy were to meet again for yet another summit, the NATO summit in Strasbourg. Carla and Michelle eventually met and all scandalmongers stopped spreading rumours around.
After a meeting between the two men, the American President pleaded the Europeans and mainly France for more resources and a sustained effort to achieve their ultimate goals in Afghanistan. To what Sarkozy answered: “France will not send any more troops in Afghanistan!”
Nevertheless “there are many common views on different subjects between France and the United States” added the French President, before insisting that the two countries had “the same vision of the world” and that “it is good to be able to work with an American President who wants to change the world”. Understand; change the world with Sarkozy, not alone!
So, does Sarkozy still need to justify himself before the sceptical French people who can’t understand why France should dovetail back into NATO’s command structure? No. Being back into NATO means that France will be able to mark a little bit more its opinion over military decisions on an international level. It also offers to the French a loud speaker that is generally monopolised by the Americans.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SARKOZY THEN?
Can one expect good things from the “new” Nicolas Sarkozy? Less “Bling-Bling”, classier? Less vainness, more work? Will there be a continuous fight between Sarkozy and Obama for a worldwide political supremacy? (Or worldwide media supremacy…) Wait and see.
One thing that we know for certain: the French President is not used to “Supporting Roles” and he will certainly not want to stay in Barack Obama’s shadow. So what’s next for Nicolas Sarkozy? Well, as long as his function of president stays impervious to his own psychology, then France (the world?) is safe!
( article first published in J.N. PAQUET's EditoBlog : www.jnpaquet.co.uk )