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A Taxing Day As Sarkozy Goes Walkabout Among The Fruit And Veg

Jun 4, 2008
What a start to the day for the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. He was up and about before dawned cracked rubbing shoulders and pressing flesh with the hoi polloi at Rungis, France's largest wholesale food and flower market just south of Paris.

And as soon as he was done with mixing with the masses it was off to the airwaves of a national radio station for his first broadcast away from the comfort of the presidential palace since taking office.

Along for the ride at Rungis, so to speak, was the inevitable pack of hacks recording his every move as he pounded from aisle to aisle meeting and greeting in a way only Sarkozy can manage. Ah yes they had been forewarned and must have been delighted by the early-morning press call.

Indeed it was pretty much a case of déjà vu, a harking back to the good old bad old days of just 18 months ago when Sarkozy was in full flow as he stumped up and down the country during his presidential campaign.

Mind you the major difference this time around perhaps was the presence of none other than the first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, looking disgustingly radiant so early in the morning as she seemed to glide ethereally alongside her husband.

Quite what she made of being surrounded by heaps of kidneys and tripe at five o'clock as the couple set off on their 90-minute mystery tour leaves the mind boggling. Blow the cynics, it really must be love.

One thing's for sure, the media hounds looked a lot more bleary-eyed than she did as they shuffled along camera-toting and snap happy for lunchtime television news broadcasts and tomorrow's front pages. Ah the blessings of stage management.

From the heaps of offal on to slabs of meat, then past crate-loads of fruit and veg before pausing in front of hunks of cheese. Bruni-Sarkozy allowing herself to spend the longest time wickedly nibbling the smallest piece, hardly gorging herself to Fatdom and pronouncing it "delicious." Once a model always a model.

And so the ambulant presidential cavalcade proceeded to the sweeter scents of the flower section, Not quite 6.30am and Sarkozy still smiling and exchanging banter - far removed from the ill-humoured scenes and insults back at the agricultural fair in February when he famously told a visitor who refused to shake his hand to "get lost" in no uncertain terms.

This really was Sarkozy at his best, driving home the impression once again that he was leading by example and paying tribute to the agricultural backbone of France - those who stirred themselves into action at such an inhumane hour every day of the week, 52 weeks a year.

And in case anybody had forgotten that these were exactly the same tactics that had endeared him to voters just over a year ago, he reminded them - in a pre-arranged impromptu press conference there on the floors of Rungis.

His message yet again was basically those who work hard would get their just rewards. A sort of "early bird catches the worm" variation on his "work more to earn more" mantra that he seems to delight in repeating.

So much for the early public relations exercise, this was always going to be a marathon of a day, with policy issues taking centre stage.

Sarkozy had an all-important radio interview scheduled, during which he would outline part two of his economic strategy to "save" the country, boost purchasing power (yes that again) and counter possible industrial action. So enough of enjoying himself at Rungis, time for more serious stuff as he headed back towards the capital.

With French fishermen still blocking ports in protest against rising fuel prices the government is desperate to avoid action spreading, especially to the nation's 35,000 truck drivers who could bring France to a standstill as they have before.

Sarkozy needed to pull a rabbit from somewhere - not an easy trick to do when the state's coffers are empty and the government can't afford to decrease the price of fuel because it relies too much on the tax it levies - currently accounting for around 65 per cent of the price of each litre.

Somehow though the president announced that he has managed to magic up a special fund of between €150-170 million for every trimester. It'll be used to compensate those who are most exposed to the recent world hike in oil prices - haulage companies, fishermen, taxi drivers - and will be financed by siphoning off some of the money from VAT on fuel.

So really it amounts to a numbers game that involves shuffling around taxes without addressing core issues of alternative energy supplies, which anyway would take far too long to be implemented and fail to address the immediate need for action. Ad hoc economics some would say.

Because the rise in fuel prices is not confined to France, Sarkozy can of course always blame global market pressure should his stopgap measure not work. Still top marks for finding some sort of bunny.

And still on the issue of taxes, and because he has proclaimed himself as the "president who wants to cut taxes not increase them", Sarkozy also announced that there's going to be no rise in the television licence.

That came as rather a surprise - he's good a that - as it still leaves many wondering how the heck he is going to finance the state-owned television channel, France 2, when the planned ban on advertising kicks in.

Did someone say privatization?
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specialising in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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