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France's Sarkozy Faces Declining Popularity


Recent surveys indicate French President Nicolas Sarkozy's popularity is declining. According to a poll to be published Saturday, his confidence rating is at less then 50 percent. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports the president has responded to these negative trends with an ambitious 2008 agenda.

Anyone who believes France's energetic president may be running out of steam was proved wrong this week. During a Tuesday news conference, Nicolas Sarkozy outlined a raft of New Year proposals, from plans to ban advertising on public television, to taxing the Internet and making the country's 35-hour work week more flexible.

President Sarkozy also proposed a less prosaic goal, to establish what he calls a "policy of civilization" for France.

Mr. Sarkozy said human beings were the heart of politics and politicians should work to improve the world and people's lives.

The French leader has not clearly spelled out his so-called "civilization policy." But he did outline one surprising goal, to factor in happiness in measuring French growth. And he has tapped two Nobel laureate economists to figure out how to do this.

Mr. Sarkozy's proposals come as he faces mediocre approval ratings, a change from last year when he coasted on widespread support.

A TNS-Sofres poll to be published Saturday in the weekly Le Figaro magazine finds only 49 percent of French have confidence in their president, a figure that has remained steady since last month. Two other polls place his approval rating slightly higher.

The economy remains a top worry in France and most French do not believe Mr. Sarkozy is capable of improving one key issue, their declining purchasing power.

Political analyst Etienne Schweisguth says the president's short-term options are limited.

Schweisguth says Mr. Sarkozy does not have much to deliver to the French public in the short run, since many of his proposals will take time to be realized. So instead, he is concentrating on the long run, with proposals like his so-called "civilization policy."

Mr. Sarkozy's approval ratings also appear to suffer from publicity about his private life. The French president's relationship with Italian singer Carla Bruni is much talked about in France, and surveys show many French worry it may overshadow Mr. Sarkozy's job as head of state.

But the president remained unapologetic this week, telling reporters that he wanted to be honest about his relationship. If journalists felt it was too publicized, he said, they did not have to send photographers to take pictures of the couple. And if he and Ms. Bruni got married, the press would be the last to know.

The leftist opposition has sharply criticized Mr. Sarkozy's new proposals and his eight months in power overall. A senior member of the Socialist party, Pierre Moscovici, took particular aim at the president's proposed changes to France's 35-hour workweek, the shortest in Europe.

In an interview on France-Info radio, Moscovici acknowledged the 35-hour workweek was not a perfect solution. But he said it was useful for a lot of employers and employees. He accused Mr. Sarkozy as being only faithful to the conservative right that elected him.

Analyst Schweisguth says it is hard to say if Mr. Sarkozy's strategy of always offering new plans and new visions of the future will work. He says it will maintain Mr. Sarkozy's image as an active president. But he does not rule out a backlash down the road, and chances the French president's popularity will plummet well below the 50 percent mark.

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