Friday, March 14, 2008

Sarko Corrige le Tir

What might at first seem a minor change seems to me to signal a new conception of the presidency, given the fundamental role that Sarkozy has always attached to "communications." David Martinon, who has been the press secretary but whose fortunes have been plummeting since his fiasco in Neuilly, is to be shunted aside. There will be no more daily press briefings à la the White House. Sarko the American will revert to a more French style, with occasional briefings on domestic affairs from a new figure, Franck Louvrier. But the real news is that the role of presidential spokesman will no longer be entrusted to flunkies but divided between two heavyweights, Claude Guéant, secretary general of the Élysée, and Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic advisor (who will have primary responsibility for international affairs).

These moves are I assume expected to accomplish two things. First, the confusion created by the frequent statements of a range of presidential advisors will presumably be checked by the appointment of two "official" senior spokesmen. Second, Sarko will be able to step back from center stage when he chooses to by allowing his top advisors to speak authoritatively but impersonally in his place. Policy will no longer seem like a personal caprice of the president, to be "corrected" the next day by his more careful and sober advisors, but rather the result of a deliberate process. Of course the president will need to collaborate with his "collaborators" if this screen strategy is to work. On verra s'il a cette capacité dans ses cordes.

As for David Martinon, he may soon find himself in New York, as consul. Not good enough for Neuilly, but just right to conquer the Big Apple.

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