After the cabinet, Sarkozy reshuffles image: analysts
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sought to tone down his exuberant style as he defended his conservative agenda in a primetime interview setting up the last phase of his mandate, analysts said Wednesday.
The Tuesday night interview on three channels set out Sarkozy's political roadmap after he named his new government, reappointing Francois Fillon as prime minister, but also his image ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
The unpopular president, frequently criticised for his perceived show business lifestyle, was careful to adopt a measured tone, including when asked by a journalist if he would change his style.
"You'll have noticed that I haven't spoken on television for six months," Sarkozy said. "That's a way of answering your question."
The wide-ranging television interview was Sarkozy's first since July when his government was embroiled in a multi-layered scandal involving then Labour Minister Eric Woerth and L'Oreal billionaire heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
Woerth was not named to the new government.
The president of the republic strove to present himself as someone who listens, countering one of the main criticisms voiced during protests against his pension reform that almost brought the country to a halt last month.
"When things don't work, I try to change them. I'm someone who's determined but I try not to be stubborn," Sarkozy said.
And in a rare admission of a possible mistake, Sarkozy acknowledged that his policies on "national identity" -- denounced on the left -- had been misunderstood, but insisted that foreigners had to respect French values.
The left-leaning Liberation's Laurent Joffring wrote in an editorial that the president was "going from baroque to classical."
"A Sarkozyism without the excesses of Sarkozyism: that's the message to be read from the (president's) tense and austere appearance," he wrote.
"Our hyper president made an unprecedented effort to appear human and humble," Jacques Camus wrote in La Republique Du Centre.
But while the president was clearly trying to appear humble yet in control, he snapped several times at journalists' questions, notably about the expulsion of members of the Roma minority and the freedom of the press.
"This was primarily a Nicolas Sarkozy trying to calm things down. He tried to give the impression that he's in control of the situation and that's he's listening to the French people," analyst Stephane Rozes wrote in the Metro daily.
There was no shortage of criticism from his political opponents on the left for his perceived attempt to change style.
"The French can no longer believe him," Socialist MP Pierre Moscovici said on BFM television. "It's a travesty of his personality, it's a travesty of the truth of his policies, it doesn't work."
Socialist party leader Francois Hollande said on France Inter radio that "the only change that I saw was a change of style, I could see the effort he was making. Do we only expect posturing and appearance from the head of state?"
Former Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, defeated by Sarkozy in 2007, said the president was "a very good actor" for saying during the interview that he had not yet decided whether to stand in 2012.
And the president could also not resist claiming some responsibility for the freeing of Myanmar democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The Chinese authorities had an influence on the Burmese junta because I spoke to (Chinese President Hu Jintao) about it," Sarkozy said.
© 2010 AFP