French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on a two-day state visit to Britain and addressed a rare joint session of parliament. Mr. Sarkozy hailed bilateral relations, speaking of a new era of Franco-British brotherhood and said he would propose boosting France's military presence in Afghanistan at the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania next week. But, as VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London, the visit is being watched closely not just for the substance of the talks but, perhaps even more, for Mr. Sarkozy's behavior and style.
Pomp, pageantry and symbolism mark the first day of this visit. President Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, were whisked off to Windsor, outside of London, where they were met by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.
They were driven in gold-gilded, horse-drawn carriages to Windsor Castle for a review of the honor guard and then lunch with Queen.
Yet, behind the display of pageantry and tradition also lay an important opportunity for Mr. Sarkozy - a chance to display a new, more serious presidential style, says French political analyst Dominique Moisi.
"This is the first state visit of the president with his new wife. At the moment, the president is very [much] criticized. Will he become more presidential? What does he have to do? - much less, not to move too much, just look quiet, distant, cold. You [the president] are the incarnation of France; you are the symbol of the Republic," said Moisi.
President Sarkozy has been the focus of severe criticism in France and of much amusement abroad for flouting convention - his divorce from his second wife and very public romance and quick third marriage to the Italian-born former model and pop singer Carla Bruni. He has promoted an image of being a man on the move, but photos of him in dark sunglasses and text messaging on his mobile phone even at official functions have proved embarrassing.
Mr. Sarkozy won last year's elections promising to reform the French economy and improve the standard of living, but instead his private life has made headlines, and his approval ratings have dropped sharply.
His state visit to Britain is widely seen as a chance to turn his image around.
But the visit also provides an opportunity for substantive talks, and Mr. Sarkozy has already said he wants to strengthen bilateral relations. Dominique Moisi, senior advisor to the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, tells VOA that key substantive issues are defense and security.
"Nothing in Europe can be done if the two key defense actors - France and Great Britain - are not closer to each other. And, France is moving closer to NATO, France is probably going to say in the coming days that she is increasing her military presence in Afghanistan," added Moisi. "Can we go further?"
Among other issues likely to be discussed are greater cooperation on immigration, development of nuclear energy and stabilizing world financial markets.