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France Takes the Lead of G-20

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy

France takes over the presidency of the G20 Friday following a two-day summit gathering leaders from the world's most powerful economies. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports French President Nicolas Sarkozy hopes the position will boost his international and domestic stature -- but others are not so sure.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ambitious plans to overhaul the global financial system when France takes over leadership of the Group of 20 largest economies -- and of the G8, in January.

At a meeting of francophone leaders in Switzerland last month, Mr. Sarkozy sketched out three main goals -- including reducing the volatility of currency and commodity prices. He also wants to shift away from an exchange rate dominated by the U.S. dollar.

Mr. Sarkozy said the world would be committing a serious error if it thought the financial crisis and the problems that brought it on were over. Reform must continue.

The French president's call for rehauling the global financial system got key backing last week by Chinese President Hu Jintao. But Mr. Sarkozy's proposals remain vague - and G20 members are deeply divided on many issues including currency exchange rates.

That's partly why experts like Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London, are skeptical about Mr. Sarkozy's goals.

"I think he's hoping that taking on the G20, G8 will bolster his international credentials," Tilford said. "I think that could prove a bit of a forlorn hope. He's taking over at a time of considerable intrnational tension. It's been a long time since we've seen such big differences on positons of key issues among the world's leading economies."

Analysts believe Mr. Sarkozy also hopes to boost his credentials at home, where he is battling record low popularity ratings just two years before presidential elections. This week, he signed into law a particularly unpopular pension reform bill that has sparked massive, country-wide demonstrations.

But Philippe Moreau Defarges of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations says many French really don't care about the G20. "Most French people are not really concerned about international politics and second reason, which is very important, today, I think for many French the G20 is a gathering of the powerful, of the big guys, of the rich people of the ruling people," he says, "and today in France and in many democracies, there is a mustrust about these kinds of people."

Analyst Tilford says French elite do share Mr. Sarkozy's concerns about restoring France's waning international influence. But he says the majority of French are more worried about domestic issues like pensions and jobs. Which is why Mr. Sarkozy's presidency of the G20 and the G8 groups may fall short of his ambitious goals.