France greets the birth of the First Baby with a yawn
John Lichfield wonders whether Sarkozy was trying to score political points by dashing off to euro crisis talks
Baby, what baby? France, or part of France, greeted the birth of President Nicolas Sarkozy's daughter with an ostentatious yawn yesterday.
The centre-left newspaper Libération ignored the happy event completely. The upmarket Le Monde, carried only a teasing article on page two, mocking the obsession of the twittosphere and foreign press with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's pregnancy. It also led its front page with the story that the world population was now 7 billion, implying, perhaps, that one baby was incidental.
President Sarkozy was equally coy. He spoke of "very great happiness" but turned up at his wife's clinic yesterday morning with a sheaf of documents and departed after 40 minutes for an official engagement in western France.
There was some surprised comment in other French media at President Sarkozy's decision to skip the birth on Wednesday night in favour of eurozone crisis talks in Germany. Euro crisis talks are daily events after all. The birth of a daughter is special.
Political commentators suggested that the President was trying to make a point. New father or not, he would remain focused on trying to rescue the European economy. Although some Sarkozy supporters have been hoping for a "baby bounce" in his poll ratings, the Elysée Palace insists that the birth is a private, not public, event. This may be tactical as well as principled. Much of his presidency has been dominated by his private life: his divorce, his marriage to Carla Bruni and his son's Jean's fast-track political career. People would prefer what remains of Mr Sarkozy's mandate to be devoted to them.
The studied lack of interest of the French goes beyond the centre-left press. "We are not a monarchy. We are a Republic. I am delighted that they have a healthy baby but it is really no one else's concern," said Hervé Letellier, a Paris-based businessman.
Not all French people shrugged yesterday. The print edition of Le Monde may have hardly covered the event but it was the third most visited story on its website yesterday. On French gossip and celebrity websites, interest was intense, especially in the possible name of the baby. The most common guesses were "Dahlia", "Julia" and "Marisa".
Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, 43, gave birth at about 7pm on Wednesday night at the exclusive Clinique de la Muette in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. After a brief visit yesterday morning, Mr Sarkozy, 56, flew to Mayenne in western France. He gave a speech at a recycling plant where employees presented him with a bib, an oak sapling and a book "for maman" on how to lose weight after pregnancy.
"That is really very kind, very thoughtful," Mr Sarkozy said. "We have been lucky enough to have a very great happiness... a joy all the more profound because it is private. But they are both doing very well." Asked the baby's name, the President said: "Lets leave the pleasure of announcing that to the mother." Later it was confirmed as "Giulia".
Le Monde may have refused to treat the birth of France's first First Baby for a century as a news story but it could claim one scoop yesterday. It published the first image of the presidential daughter. A front-page cartoon pictured the L'Oréal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, who was placed under judicial control by a French court this week. Next to her was a baby in a pram with President Sarkozy's features and a pink ribbon in her hair. She was saying: "Better put dad under judicial control. And quickly!"
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