When Baroness Ashton said she could speak for Europe with one voice, she had not reckoned on the fall-out from the Sarkozy affair.
The President of France arrives in Britain to discuss the apocalyptic global financial crisis with the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The two statesmen speak to the international Press.
The question asked of Sarkozy is whether his wife, Carla, is sleeping with a younger musician and if the President has taken up with his ecology minister.
Sarkozy replies: “You must know very little about what a President of the Republic actually has to do all day long.”
Unfortunately, we do have an inkling: Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was nicknamed “Monsieur Fifteen Minutes, Shower Included” for his alleged extramarital activities. President Mitterrand publicly admitted to an affair and a daughter before his death.
The confidence with which journalists have approached the wholly unsubstantiated gossip about Sarkozy is based on his |nationality.
The British have also reverted to type, ignoring the sophisticated sighs of the French and their privacy laws. We read much last week about the refusal of French newspapers to touch this vulgar story, so I was proud to see that it was a journalist from Le Monde who posed the offending question to Sarkozy in London.
A day in the company of the incorrigible British Press and he has become one of us.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, who boasted in an interview that he was instrumental in the romance between Sarkozy and Carla Bruni (let us hope this |scenario does not become even more complicated) reproaches the pack. “I have been able to tell Nicolas that I don't believe everything I read in the British Press,” he says, loftily.
Carla herself has given an interview to Sky television. She says that it is a fairytale for her to fall in love at 40 (as opposed, perhaps, to falling in love almost every preceding year).
She is asked whether she thinks the marriage will last. She shrugs with incomprehension, as the most famous femme fatale of our times. “I guess marriage should be for ever . . . but who knows?” she replies, magnificently.
Asked if she trusts her husband to be faithful, she responds in lawyerly fashion: “Have you ever seen a picture of him having an affair?”
This is a peculiarly French situation, a British Prime Minister could not rely on the knock-out glamour of his cabinet for sexual comfort. How is it that France has an inexhaustible supply of smouldering female politicians?
My son flew out of Baghdad last week and said the plane-load of private security staff and engineers fell silent as French Justice Minister Rachida Dati sashayed up the aisle.
A biographer reported Carla strolling round the Elysee apartments with Dati, stopping by the Presidential bed to murmur: “You'd have liked to have occupied it, wouldn't you?” Imagine Sarah Brown hissing this to Harriet Harman.
Here we fuss about expense claims, while in France they cannot be bothered to discuss rumours of their President's affairs.
The Sarkozy show reveals the chasm between the British and the French. It is to the credit of both nations.