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2007 was France's Year of Nicolas Sarkozy


The year 2007 in France can easily be called the year of Nicolas Sarkozy. Since Mr. Sarkozy's election as president, he appears to be everywhere, and as Lisa Bryant reports for VOA from Paris, he is living up to some of the high expectations.

It's May 6, 2007, and Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate for the ruling conservative Union for a Popular Movement Party has won the French presidential elections, beating out his Socialist rival Segolene Royale with 53 percent of the votes. During his campaign Mr. Sarkozy promised not just change in France, but a real "rupture" or break from the country's past. He reiterated this vow during a triumphant speech shortly after the results were announced.

Speaking before cheering supporters, France's new leader said the country had given him everything. Now, it was time for him to give back to France.

The past seven months have indeed brought changes and a new tone to French politics. Mr. Sarkozy appointed an extremely diverse cabinet, including not only a number of women and ethnic minorities, but also members of the leftist opposition, including French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Steven Ekovich specializes in French politics at the American University of Paris.

"Right now, he's exploiting his image as a young, dynamic president," he said. "And we'll see how quickly the French get tired of this energy. But we have quite a dramatic difference with the previous president who seemed to have no energy at all."

When it comes to domestic policy, says Frederic Micheau, an analyst at the IFOP polling agency in Paris, the French president has largely delivered.

Micheau says Mr. Sarkozy has made good on campaign promises to help realize a new, simplified European Union treaty, simplify immigration laws, and reform the universities and special pension privileges for some French workers.

Not all the changes are popular. The pension reform plans brought hundreds of thousands of striking workers to the streets in November and students upset about the proposed university reforms blocked several dozen French universities. Critics have also blasted new immigration restrictions passed by Mr. Sarkozy's center-right government.

In fact, Stephane Le Foll, a Socialist deputy in the European Parliament and Cabinet director for Socialist party chairman Francois Holland has nothing good to say about Mr. Sarkozy's performance to date.

Overall, Le Foll gives Mr. Sarkozy a negative year-end report card. He says the economy is doing badly, and likely to be worse next year. And, he says, the president's social policies aren't any better.

Mr. Sarkozy's foreign policy has also generated criticism. He has established warmer ties with the United States than under his predecessor Jacques Chirac, but analyst Micheau says he has not respected his campaign promises to make human rights issues an integral part of his foreign policy, notably in his dealings with Russia and China, which he visited this year.

And the December visit to France of Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, once considered a terrorist nation, generated outcry particularly when Mr. Gadhafi contradicted Mr. Sarkozy and said the French president had not brought up human rights concerns during their talks.

Socialist politician Le Foll says Mr. Gadhafi's visit deteriorated the image not only of Mr. Sarkozy, but also of France. He also criticizes the way the French president monopolizes the media and public space.

And Mr. Sarkozy's energy seems unending, visiting French fishermen one day and flying off to Chad the next, to bring back Europeans facing kidnapping charges. Although he tried to keep his rocky relationship with his wife Cecilia private, the announcement of their divorce in October splashed across front pages of the French newspapers. His new relationship with Italian singer Carla Bruni is similarly grabbing media attention.

Mr. Sarkozy's popularity has also plummeted from a peak of nearly 80 percent in August to between 50 and 55 percent today. Most analysts believe his honeymoon with the French people is over. Micheau of IFOP is among them.

But Micheau said President Sarkozy's highest popularity ratings almost reached those of French wartime hero, Charles de Gaulle, so it was inevitable that they should drop.

Micheau says Mr. Sarkozy's best plan of action for 2008 is to continue making good on his promises of 2007.

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