French President Nicolas Sarkozy has "managed to insult three of his country's closest allies" during a lunch with French parliamentarians, reports the Telegraph:
Mr Sarkozy, not known for his tact, said US president Barack Obama was “not always up to standard on decision-making or efficiency”, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was “perhaps not very intelligent” while Angela Merkel “had no choice but to come round to my position” when she saw the state of German banks.
But did he have anything, complementary or otherwise, to say about our own Supreme Leader? There's no hint of it. I checked with the website of the French left-wing daily, Libération, where the story was first reported (noticing along the way that the fame of our own frazzle-haired chanteuse Susan Boyle has made it across the channel - an item about her appearing, bizarrely, above a story accusing Sacha Baron Cohen of "sodomising fashion").
I find, first of all, that the slur upon their prime minister has caused a stir in Spain, where Sarko is due on a state visit in less than a fortnight. A right-wing newspaper is quite amused, although one of Z's political opponents finds the president's behaviour not quite the done thing. The full quote reads, rather bizarrely, "Zapatero may not be very intelligent. Me, I know some very intelligent people who didn't make it through to the second round of the presidential election." This is apparently an allusion to Lionel Jospin who was beaten into second place by Jean Marie le Pen in 2002. He then added, mischievously, "I myself have often beaten opponents who were more intelligent and better educated than me." Which is not an admission I would expect to pass the lips of Gordon Brown.
As for the comments about Mrs Merkel, they amounted to little more than what Libération described as "autocongratulation". Sarko's remarks about Obama, meanwhile, were rather more rounded than the Telegraph suggests. Thus he described the president as "very intelligent and charismatic, with a subtle mind" but noted that, due perhaps to his lack of government experience, there were "a number of things on which he has no position". His strongest points were reserved for Obama's stance on CO2 reduction. He told his guests, "I said to him, You've made a speech, but it is necessary to take action." (Tu as fait un discours, il va falloir des actes: note the use of the informal tu, which may represent a significant departure in international relations, unless he's lying about his grammar, which is possible). "Here in Europe, carbon targets are enforced with sanctions", he added sternly. Which is fair comment, although France itself invariably manages to avoid paying.
But if Sarko said anything about the big G, it was not considered sufficiently interesting to be noted down. This despite the fact that discussion at the lunch centred around the G20, which was held in London, and which Gordon Brown used as an opportunity to pose as "Chancellor of the World" (© Nick Robinson) and grand impresario of the coming world recovery. Our prime minister, it seems, merits not even the passing tribute of a sigh.