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When Nicolas Sarkozy was campaigning for president last year, he promised "action, change, rupture". Whatever one thought of "Sarko", there was little question that he meant what he said. After 12 years of vacillating waffle from Jacques Chirac, French voters were reassured by such directness and duly elected him over the gaffe-prone Socialist Ségolène Royal.

For better or for worse, President Sarkozy has clearly begun to deliver on his promise to shake up the economy with pro-business reforms. He has raised the retirement age for public sector workers, facing down a nationwide transport strike last autumn. And just before the summer recess, he passed a law which effectively scraps the 35-hour working week.

But in foreign policy, Sarkozy's record has been one of cynicism and incompetence. His embrace of the world's worst dictators makes the usually thug-tolerant Jacques Chirac look like a man of principle.

Yet Sarkozy was once branded "an American neo-conservative with a French passport" by Eric Besson, who later defected from the opposition to be appointed a junior minister. The candidate's rhetoric suggested these were not just political swearwords; for he promised both transatlantic rapprochement and a new moral dimension to foreign policy, sounding at times like a Gallic Paul Wolfowitz. He denounced the "silence" of the international community over Chechnya and Darfur and pledged to clean up the murky world of Franco-African relations. His choice of Bernard Kouchner, the Socialist founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and long-term supporter of "humanitarian intervention", as foreign minister seemed to confirm a desire to break with the grubby Realpolitik of his predecessor.

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September 13th, 2008
12:09 AM
What do you honestly expect of him? He's French! They never change.

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