For the country that hosts a big international conference like the G20, which is taking place now in the city of Cannes in the south of France, there is always a price to pay: overtime for police officers, the risk of embarrassing protests, traffic disruptions, so many big egos involved and so much subtle protocol to get right.
Happily, there can also be compensations. And so it may be for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hoping that some of the glitter that still sticks to U.S. President Barack Obama on the international stage will rub off.
The two leaders will be interviewed together by the anchors of the two main national television channels in an unusual joint broadcast tonight, as the acrimonious conference closes.
Both men face tough re-election battles in 2012, but Mr. Sarkozy’s problems are more pressing. Presidential elections are just six months away. His approval ratings are hovering around 30 percent. He faces a lacklustre Socialist candidate, François Hollande. But the far-right National Front, always the bane of the mainstream rightwing, has the more photogenic Marine Le Pen as its nominee.
He has also made his personal relations with other leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, especially personal. The Euro zone debt crisis, which has dominated the Cannes meeting, has given Mr. Sarkozy the opportunity to mend his fraying relations with Ms. Merkel. The German-French partnership, the anchor in European relations that sets the ship rocking when it is not solid, has been a standout factor in the pressure on Greece and, now, Italy.
For his domestic audience of potential voters, that is reassuring. Praise from Mr. Obama would also be a boost for Mr. Sarkozy, who has long sought to portray himself as a crucial player in international affairs.
Relations between the two leaders, watched with hawk-like interest in France, have been bumpy over the years.
Mr. Sarkozy wanted badly to be the first foreign leader invited to the White House after Mr. Obama’s election, but lost out to the British. In 2009, the French and foreign press were quick to note a chill between them during commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
Later that year, the French president was widely quoted telling aides that his American counterpart was charismatic but inexperienced in government. A Sarkozy minister, after a visit to Washington, reported that President Obama gave him a message to pass on: “Please tell Nicolas I will do my homework.”
Then came the Newsweek magazine cover story on what was called “ Sarkozy’s Obama Envy,” which didn’t help matters much either. Their televised appearance tonight will be closely watched here, less for the content of what they say than for the chemistry between the two men. It did not look especially sweet late Thursday at a joint press appearance.
Mr. Obama, apparently attempting a bit of levity, congratulated Mr. Sarkozy on the birth last week of his daughter. “I am confident Giulia inherited her mother’s looks and not her father’s, which I think is an excellent thing,” he said.
Mr. Sarkozy reacted with a smile that seemed wrapped around a grimace.