Sarkozy calls for end to 'hypocrisy' and hints he will marry ex-model

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President Nicolas Sarkozy as good as confirmed yesterday that he plans to marry his girlfriend, the Franco-Italian former model Carla Bruni, in the near future. Pressed for a date for the wedding, he said: "The chances are that you will hear about it when it has already happened."

In his first extensive press conference since he took office last June, M. Sarkozy teased journalists for accusing him of flaunting his private life while covering every detail of his two-month-old love affair with Mme Bruni, 40.

He said that he wanted to break with the "hypocrisy and lies" which had been the "deplorable tradition" of French politics in the past. The same newspapers which accused him of "exploiting" his private life had knowingly "covered with a lead screen" the fact that the late President Franois Mitterrand had two separate families, he said.

In a two-hour press conference at the Elyse Palace, including a one hour opening statement, President Sarkozy had been expected to announce detailed plans for 2008. He had been expected, in particular, to explain what he meant by his promise of a "new politics of civilisation" and a "new renaissance" in his message to the French people on New Year's Eve.

In fact, the President had little concrete to announce. His opening statement sounded more like a campaign speech than the programme of government of a president elected six months ago. He rejected rumours of a government reshuffle in the near future. He said that he wanted to abolish commercials on public television stations and fund them instead from a tax on commercial channels and a "minuscule" tax which would be imposed on mobile phones and the internet.

He said that he wanted to change the preamble to the French constitution to allow action to guarantee the equality of men and women and different races, a move that was interpreted as a first step towards affirmative action for women and ethnic minorities.

He also said that he hoped to have an annual debate in parliament to set a "quota" for immigration. He revealed that he had discussed with the Italian and Spanish leaders the possibility of organising joint flights to send illegal migrants back to their home countries.

President Sarkozy offered no specific new plans to boost economic growth or to slow the fall of purchasing power in France. These issues together with the displeasure of older voters at the media circus surrounding his private life are thought to explain a 7 per cent fall in M. Sarkozy's approval ratings this month.

On the question of economic growth, M. Sarkozy merely said that he had asked two Nobel-winning economists to look for ways of changing the rules for how growth is measured. That seemed unlikely to boost consumer confidence.

Challenged about his decision to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin after what was widely judged to have been an undemocratic election last month, M. Sarkozy said: "It is ridiculous to hold against Mr Putin an election when absolutely all its international observers will tell you that he is the most popular politician in Russia."

On his whirlwind two-month relationship with Mme Bruni, started weeks after he divorced from his second wife, Ccilia, M. Sarkozy said: "You've understood. It's serious."

The President said he wanted to abandon the "hypocritical" tradition of French leaders keeping their love lives hidden with the connivance of the media. "Carla and I have decided not to lie," he said.