Sarkozy Gets Makeover As Approval Drops

Sarkozy Gets Makeover As Approval Drops

( AP )- French President Nicolas Sarkozy is giving himself an image makeover, trading in his flashy style for a more dignified demeanor with his approval ratings dropping just 10 months after his election.

Much has been made by the French media of Sarkozy's jet-setting lifestyle, his affinity for Rolexes and private yachts and his love life. But Sarkozy's appearances in the past week have come in more traditional presidential roles.

Political observers say that may have to do with the president's approval ratings dropping to around 40 percent from a high of around 65 percent in July. And last week, voters snubbed his conservative party in local elections.

"The magician didn't realize his wand was broken," said political analyst Jean-Luc Parodi. "The magic isn't lost, but it will take a long time to repair."

As part of his makeover, Sarkozy has channeled Charles de Gaulle - the general, Resistance leader and statesman.

On Friday, the president marked the death of France's last World War I veteran, paid homage to World War II Resistance heroes and toured a new state-of-the-art nuclear submarine named "Le Terrible."

De Gaulle in 1967 was the last president to visit the submarine building site in Normandy. Sarkozy used the occasion to deliver a stern speech about nuclear deterrence and disarmament, and as a photo opportunity alongside and inside the submarine to remind France that he is commander in chief.

Sarkozy also will meet Queen Elizabeth II and lay a wreath at a de Gaulle statue during a trip to Britain on Wednesday and Thursday.

Pollsters analyzed why his conservative UMP party lost cities in local elections that ended March 16. A CSA-Dexia poll taken that day said a majority of people believe Sarkozy should "adopt a more presidential style."

Most of the 1,000 respondents to the poll said they government to continue its reforms - indicating that the problem is more about style than substance.

Stephane Rozes, head of CSA, believes Sarkozy's advisers didn't dare tell him he was exposing his personal life too much.

"After the local elections, he is taking the country's expectations into account. Things are requiring him to change his attitude," Rozes said.

Sarkozy's office declined to directly address the president's makeover. But an official at the presidential palace said Sarkozy plans to show more "selectivity" among the array of reforms he aggressively addressed right after taking office. He also will include more ceremonial appearances in his schedule, such as formal commemorations, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

Voters elected Sarkozy in May partly because of his no-nonsense, direct demeanor. It was a contrast to former President Jacques Chirac, known for eloquence but not for getting things done. Sarkozy's image was in line with his vision of remaking France into a business-friendly land of opportunity.

The changes have not come as fast as Sarkozy hoped. He managed to push through tax cuts and to trim retirement benefits for some transit employees, navigating a nine-day rail strike in doing so. But he either caved in on or watered down many other planned reforms.

In the meantime, many believed Sarkozy's high-flying style spiraled out of control.

He divorced his second wife, Cecilia, in October, and reportedly began dating model-singer Carla Bruni the following month. Their quick courtship led to a glitzy February wedding in which they borrowed a private jet from a billionaire friend for a vacation. They reportedly lavished each other with expensive presents - a Patek Philippe watch for him, a Dior ring for her.

Meanwhile, with all of France worried about the growing cost of living, Sarkozy said he himself was helpless to do anything, though he had campaigned on making life more affordable for France's citizens.

Sarkozy's ex-wife, Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz, planned to marry event planner Richard Attias in New York on Saturday, according to the French magazine Point de Vue. Ciganer-Albeniz left Sarkozy in May 2005 to live with Moroccan-born Attias, but returned to Sarkozy's side in the run-up to the French vote in May of last year.

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