Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Sarkozy hopes Obama's glitter rubs off at G20

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) waves beside the French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he arrives for G20 Summit on November 3, 2011 in Cannes, France.

Getty Images/David Ramos/Getty Images/David Ramos

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Foreign Editor

Susan Sachs is a former Foreign Editor of The Globe and Mail.Ms. Sachs was previously the Afghanistan correspondent for the newspaper, and covered the Middle East and European issues based in Paris. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.