Sarkozy hopes to learn lessons from Blair

31st January 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Jan 30, 2007 (AFP) - France could learn from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's openness and pragmatism, visiting French conservative presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday.

LONDON, Jan 30, 2007 (AFP) - France could learn from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's openness and pragmatism, visiting French conservative presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday.

On his first foreign trip since announcing his candidacy to succeed President Jacques Chirac, he said France was "too self-centred" and was at pains to demonstrate his closeness to the Labour leader.

"There is great trust between Tony Blair and me," Sarkozy, who is also the French interior minister, said after emerging from a one-hour meeting and lunch with Blair at 10 Downing Street.

"I want to build the best for France. I want to go everywhere in the world and meet those who have served their country well," added the right-wing UMP party chief, who celebrated his 52nd birthday Sunday.

Blair, who transformed Britain's leftist Labour Party into a centrist political force that has held power for almost 10 years, is widely criticized by supporters of the French left.

The British leader also has strained relations with President Chirac, in particular since the French leader led a bloc of European countries opposed to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Blair backed.

Sarkozy paid tribute to the "way Tony Blair conducts his policy," citing notably his efforts to resolve problems in Northern Ireland, the low unemployment rate and economic reform.

"It's not about imposing a model (on France) but Tony Blair has demonstrated pragmatism and has been useful for his country and I want a France that is very open to the world," he said.

"And one of our problems is that we're too self-centered," Sarkozy said.

The French conservative ackowledged that London and Paris do not always see eye-to-eye. "Obviously we have disagreements, such as the Iraq business," he said.

But he said Blair "taught me that pragmatism and openness in politics counts.

"European socialists can be proud of what one of ours has done," Sarkozy added before hastily correcting his slip of the tongue to "one of theirs."

Sarkozy, who has made several visits to London in the past, is known to admire aspects of Britain's economic model, notably its less regulated labour market.

He has spoken of the need to lure back to France the hundreds of thousands of French men and women who have moved to find work in Britain.

Sarkozy was to visit a job-centre in Marylebone, central London, and the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, used by prime minister Winston Churchill in World War II.

Before boarding the Eurostar back to Paris, in an early evening meeting with about a thousand French expatriates -- another thousand were left outside due to a lack of space -- Sarkozy appealed to the group to return to France, declaring: "Our old country can still achieve great things."

British press reports suggested he has one eye on the potentially important expatriate vote in next year's election, if the run-off ballot is close.

A British embassy spokesman in Paris said that Sarkozy's rival in April's presidential election, the Socialist Segolene Royal, has not signalled any plan to make a similar visit.

Royal herself praised aspects of Blair's politics in two separate newspaper interviews with The Guardian and the Financial Times last year.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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