MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
We're going to turn to France now, where President Nicolas Sarkozy says his relationship with Italian model turned pop singer Carla Bruni is serious. The two have been spotted cavorting around the world. And some analysts blame the relationship for his drop in the polls. Today, Sarkozy spoke about his love interest, including the question of marriage.
Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language).
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy's new relationship with Carla Bruni was France's holiday entertainment. After his high-profile divorce from his second wife only three months ago, Sarkozy's budding romance with Bruni led the TV news and photos of the couple appear in the tabloid and mainstream press alike. The lovebirds were captured holding hands at the pyramids in Egypt and strolling in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra. This past Sunday, a reputable newspaper said the president was set to marry the 40-year-old international socialite who has been courted the likes of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton.
Today, Sarkozy held his first press conference of 2008 in front of 600 journalists. He began with a State of the Union-like speech outlining his vision for France and the world. But the second question summed up why everyone had come.
Unidentified Woman: (Speaking in foreign language).
BEARDSLEY: Are you going to marry Carla Bruni and when, a journalist asked.
NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Speaking in foreign language).
BEARDSLEY: How do I answer that, said Sarkozy, flashing a broad grin.
SARKOZY: (Speaking in foreign language)
BEARDSLEY: We decided not to lie. We didn't want to exploit it, but we didn't want to hide either, the president said. We went to Egypt and saw the pyramids. If that's manipulation, then don't send photographers, he went on. But you guessed, it's very, very serious.
Sarkozy stopped short of a wedding announcement. But he told the press they'd find out after it happened. Sarkozy said he wanted to break with what he called a hateful tradition of hypocrisy in French politics. It was a clear allusion to President Francois Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter, whose existence was kept secret for many years. France was evolving, Sarkozy said, and reminded the journalists that she couldn't have even posed the question to any of his predecessors.
But Sarkozy's complete change of style - mixing his private life with his public life - may be more than some French people can handle, says analyst Dominic Moisi.
DOMINIQUE MOISI: There's always something happening in the new Sarkozian republic. I think that's a little too much for many Frenchmen who are accusing the president from neglecting their problems and from leading a lifestyle that is too much in contrast with the difficulties of their own private lives.
BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy - who sports expensive suits and watches, and borrows private jets from his rich friends - has been dubbed Le President bling-bling by left-wing critics, who charge that he has been unable to rev up the economy and increase purchasing power as he promised. The president's approval has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since he was elected, down seven points from early December. That's about the same time he started dating Bruni.
At the counter of Le Mirabeau cafe near the Seine River, Jerome Barron(ph) is enjoying a draught beer after work. Barron says he doesn't think Sarkozy's relationship is directly related to his drop in popularity, but it's what he calls the president's permanent show that is beginning to wear thin.
JEROME BARRON: (Speaking in foreign language).
BEARDSLEY: He's too Americanized. We have an image of a more statesman-like, reserved president, not someone who acts like a tycoon, Barron says. He goes too fast, we French want gradual change. So it's his image that's a bit troubling.
BEARDSLEY: Bruni will accompany Sarkozy on an official trip to India this month. Protocol officials are said to be grappling over the proper role for a visiting president's first girlfriend.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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