Oh, you French, we know exactly how you must be feeling today.
In the time it took to down three courses at a working lunch earlier this week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy managed to insult Barack Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish prime minister José Luis Zapatero, sparking an international outrage and a growing sense among the French populace that when it comes to foreign affairs, they have their very own Bush Jr.
According to the French newspaper Libération, Sarkozy suggested Obama is weak and inexperienced, that Zapatero is unintelligent and that Merkel is slow on the uptake, not realizing how to tackle the global financial crisis until Sarkozy explained it to her. The story, snarkily entitled, "Sarkozy Sees Himself as Master of the World," said the comments came during a luncheon with a cross-party group of 24 French parliamentarians. Opposition politicians relayed his comments--or what Libération called "a festival of me, myself and I" -- to the media.
The UK Guardian explains that Sarkozy's tactless tirade began with Obama, "whose star status and media adulation he is understood to envy."
"He said that Obama had a subtle intelligence but that he was recently elected and had never run a state or an authority before," Jean-Pierre Brard, a Communist MP, told the Guardian. Another guest quoted Sarkozy in the Libération newspaper as saying: "There are numerous things on which he [Obama] hasn't got a position and ... he is not always up to scratch with decisions and efficiency."
Enjoying his chance to cast himself as the hero of the global fight against the downturn, Sarkozy ploughed on with some barbed comments about Merkel's leadership during the crisis.
"Once she realised the state of her banks and her car industry, she had no choice but to come round to my position," he said.
Modest, that Sarkozy. Even so, the German media was not amused and the Spanish press was said to be "incredulous" at remarks suggesting the Spanish prime minister is "not very intelligent."
In a meal peppered with ill-advised humour, it was not until dessert, however, that Sarkozy delivered his punchline. Discussing a recent policy move by the Spanish government which had taken France, according to Sarkozy, as its "example", one Socialist MP piped up and said there were "a lot of things to be said about Zapatero".
Responding swiftly, Sarkozy said: "Perhaps he's not very intelligent." The remark - emphatically denied by the Elysée but confirmed by sources present at the lunch, held on Tuesday - was greeted with an icy silence yesterday in Madrid, where the president is due on an official visit later this month.
The ever-diplomatic Sarkozy went on to call the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, "totally absent from the G20," bringing the grand total of insulted world leaders to four. The only world leader Sarkozy had any kind words for was Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who he praised for managing to get re-elected: "The important thing in a democracy is to be re-elected," Sarkozy reportedly said. "Look at Berlusconi. He's been re-elected three times."
Sarkozy's utter lack of tact, diplomacy and good sense is being roundly mocked throughout France and Europe today, drawing numerous comparisons to our so recently departed Chimp-in-Chief.
A selection of comments from Le Monde's blog tells the tale. Apologies for any translation mistakes:
17.04.09 | 13h14
Et voilà, maintenant nous avons notre Bush Junior, celui qui détruit l'image de la France aux yeux du reste du monde. Enfin rien d'étonnant, puisque Sarko a déjà montré son penchant pour l'ex-président US. Espérons qu'il ne ruine pas le pays comme l'autre l'a fait...
And voilà, now we have our own Bush Jr., the man who's destroying France's image in the eyes of the world. Not surprising really, since Sarko has already shown his penchant for the ex-US president. Let's hope hw doesn't ruin the country like the other one did.
17.04.09 | 13h41
Chers amis d’Amérique, d’Allemagne, d’Espagne, d'autres contrées qui se sentiraient offensés par ce triste personnage, vous comprenez maintenant pourquoi une majorité de Français ne supporte plus cet individu qui a été élu avec 53% des suffrages exprimés (qui ne feront jamais 53% des Français, même pas des électeurs, ni des votants) au deuxième tour d’une élection présidentielle. Sauvez-nous, nous sommes otages! Et pardon pour des propos si honteux qui n'engagent ni la France, ni les Francais!
Dear friends from America, Germany, Spain and other lands who will be offended by this sad character: now you understand why a majority of French no longer support this individual who was elected with 53 percent of recorded votes (which doesn't mean 53 percent of French people nor French voters) in the second round of the presidential election. Please know that we are hostages! And so sorry for these words that bring shame to France and the French.
17.04.09 | 10h58
Ce qui est incroyable avec notre président, c'est qu'à chaque fois qu'on se dit qu'on a touché le fond, il sort sa pelle pour creuser un peu plus.
What's incredible with our president is that each time we tell ourselves he's hit bottom, he gets out his shovel to dig a little deeper.
17.04.09 | 11h57
Je n'ai pas voté pour cet homme et je ne comprends toujours pas par quel concours de circonstances il a réussi a ce retrouver au plus haut poste de la nation... Ce qui est sur c'est que beaucoup de français se sentent honteux d'avoir un président qui soit perçu de cette façon.
I didn't vote for this man and I still don't understand by what combination of cirumstances he succeeded in finding himself in the highest post in the nation...What is certain is that many French feel ashamed to have a president who is perceived in this way.
Perhaps faux pas like this one are why Sarkozy's ratings are in the gutter. In the latest IPSOS/ParisMatch poll of national politicians, former president Jacques Chirac finished first with 74 percent, while Sarkozy, who ran as the anti-Chirac, ranked 29th with just 47 percent.
France, we've felt your pain. Thank le bon Dieu we no longer have to.