- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

PARIS — Brushing aside his latest drop in opinion polls, President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday announced a program for a “civilization revolution” that would reform most French institutions and the traditional approach to political and economic problems.

The apparently visionary task would involve amendments to the constitution, a change in employment contracts and reforms of the schools and hospital administration.

He pledged “new freedoms” for citizens, an increased role for parliament and an initiative to “moralize capitalism.”

The conservative president, elected in May, used his first major press conference to outline the program and to criticize several facets of the French economic and political systems. He echoed the sentiments of Prime Minister Francois Millon, who has described France as “bankrupt.”

He promised that France would play a greater role on the world scene, continue the war on terrorist “barbarians” and support Arab governments opposed to Islamic fundamentalism.

Mr. Sarkozy dismissed criticism of his relationship with Carla Bruni, a singer and former fashion model with whom he has taken brief vacations to Egypt and Jordan. He and Miss Bruni, he said, have broken with “hypocrisy and lies,” which, he implied, characterized the sentimental lives of some of his predecessors.

He hinted that he intends to marry Miss Bruni, but refused to confirm newspaper reports that they would wed on Feb. 9.

The drop in Mr. Sarkozy’s popularity rating from 54 percent to 48 percent was generally attributed to the reaction against his open relationship with Miss Bruni, accompanied by voluminous photographs in the press.

The president described his divorce last year from Cecilia Ciganer Albeniz as “not the happiest period of my life” and closed the discussion of the subject by saying, “Presidents have also the right to happiness.”

In his initial 50-minute statement, he raced through subjects including civilization, diplomacy, human rights, architecture, ecology, urban congestion and the poor distribution of the press.

He particularly deplored the educational system, saying, “Our society has not given the young a place they deserve.”

Mr. Sarkozy also said France will stop funding the English-language version of round-the-clock news channel France 24, and called for a French-only network to replace it.

“With taxpayers’ money, I am not prepared to broadcast a channel that does not speak French,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

Started in December 2006 by Mr. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, France 24 now broadcasts parallel services in French, English and Arabic, with the aim of challenging the dominance of English-language market leaders BBC World and CNN. The broadcaster had been due to start a Spanish service later this year.

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