Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Who would have predicted that Sarko would turn out to be such a smooth operator? He had cultivated a reputation as a street-fighter, but as president he has taken his act indoors, off La Dalle and into gilt palaces, where he has spoken softly and put his big stick aside. Indeed, he has become downright suave. With the Euroland finance ministers in Brussels yesterday, he gave little in the way of genuine assurances, knowing that his interlocutors could flap their jaws all they wanted but had no teeth, yet he found the words necessary to reassure and calm rather than inflame. Rather than insist on running a deficit at 2.5 percent of GDP, as he had done only a few days before, he listened to the exhortations to do better and said, well, yes, it might just be possible to pare it down to 2.4 percent. Since both figures emerge from the tea leaves, one can imagine him saying to himself before making such a grand concession, "Eh bien, pourquoi pas?"

Even the stern Luxembourgeois Mr. Juncker was mollified. "It's good news for Europe that France is no longer refusing to budge." That it hadn't budged very far mattered less than the appearance of comity. "Coordination was the winner," said someone at the European Commission. "M. Sarkozy agreed to engage in a process of dialogue, when he could have just presented his projects and gone his merry way."

Sarko's ascent to the presidency has changed him as marriage transforms the confirmed bachelor. He's no longer in the barroom with his buddies and has learned that a "process of dialogue" is essential to a happy home. The Europeans for now trust that he won't run off on a binge, while Sarko is still testing the length of his leash and doing what he can to avoid a row.

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