It hasn’t happened often in the past six months, but there’s been something of a lull in recent weeks in the French president’s almost boundless domination of the country’s news agenda.
But hallelujah Nicolas Sarkozy is about to make yet another of his ad hoc party political broadcasts this evening - on behalf of himself of course.
There’ll be prime time TV news coverage with the usual simpering questions from two of the country’s top journalists, Patrick Poivre D’Avor - PPDA (TF1) and Arlotte Chabot (France 2).
Sarkozy will undoubtedly alternately frown and beam as he answers questions and outlines his (government’s) proposals for dealing with the riots in the suburbs, increasing individuals’ purchasing power and remaining steadfast in his resolve to reform pensions.
So he’s about to break his silence, which will come as a relief to many a journalist.
Friday’s newspapers will heave with headlines dominated by the president’s proclamations, so it’ll be a case of business as usual. Since he took office, Sarkozy has been popping up everywhere, all the time and his omnipresence even led some in the media to complain that he was getting too much coverage for every morsel he deigned to throw to the pack.
His answer was to maintain a thunderous hush as he allowed employment minister, Xavier Bertrand, to deal with the unions’ at a time when a huge chunk of the workforce was struggling its way through the transport strikes in an effort to put in their 35-hours a week.
The main thrust of tonight’s “interview” was meant to be consumer purchasing power or “pouvoir d’achat”. It seems to have become something of buzz phrase here recently with the French apparently firmly convinced they can legislate to increase it. Even the Socialists (yes they still squeak with several voices) have promised to express their disunited view on how the euro can be made to stretch further.
Nobody should hold their breath though for some magical presidential solution. It’s hard to see exactly how Sarkozy can offer real incentives, as the state coffers are all but empty after the tax breaks awarded to the better off a few months ago.
The economy hasn’t yet had the kick-start that was expected and Sarkozy resolutely refuses to increase the minimum wage. So the likely answer to drop from the president’s lips will be his oft-chanted mantra “work more to earn more”. Hallelujah indeed.
Meanwhile on the violence in the suburbs, he’ll once again be hard pushed to find a quick-fit answer as everyone agrees there simply isn’t one
He has already vowed to find those who shot and injured police officers in the rioting that followed the death of two teenagers after their scooter collided with a police car.
The most Sarkozy can realistically offer is to accelerate the current consultation process already being undertaken by the junior minister for urban policies, Fadela Amara. She’s due to deliver a blueprint for improving education and employment opportunities (especially among the young) in the deprived inner city suburbs at the end of January 2008.
But at least Sarkozy’s reaction as president has been much more measured this time around than it was two years ago when he was interior minister. The three weeks of violence in 2005 led him to remark that the “scum needed to be cleaned from the street” – a comment which did not endear him to the residents of those inner city suburbs and he made a point of steering clear of them during his presidential campaigning.
This week’s violence broke out while he was on a state visit to China signing billion-euro contracts and it was left to the current interior minister, Michele Alliot-Marie – widely perceived as a much more conciliatory figure – to deal with the immediate aftermath.
On his return Sarkozy visited injured police officers in their hospital beds and took to the streets before (finally) persuading the families of the two youths who died in the collision to come to his official residence at the Elysée Palace.
Zero tolerance may still be at the core of Sarkozy’s approach, but the reigns of office, lessons of the past and his undoubted showmanship may well help him garner support from the public at large.
Ah yes this evening’s PR show will be fascinating, if only to see whether either PPDA or Chabot dares to ask any follow-up questions about Cecilia. During their last-love in a couple of month ago, the two esteemed journalists were treated to a touching marital tribute from Sarkozy who waxed lyrical over his (now former) wife’s contribution to his political life. There was no hint of the impending divorce of course.
Maybe the name Laurence will pass his lips this time. Unlikely.
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