By Henning Lohse in Paris
The latest escapade in the Sarko-Bruni affair will do little to promote the French president's "Return to Seriousness" campaign. The hyperactive president -- who loves nothing better than to surprise his friends and enemies alike and has of late best been known for his public displays of affection with a certain former supermodel -- has once again seen his efforts to be taken seriously as a politician vaporize.
Sarko's glamorous girlfriend Carla Bruni, 39, has stripped for a spread in the Spanish men's magazine DT and allowed herself to be photographed in come-hither poses. But while a photo shoot like that may be routine for a top model, it could escalate into a national scandal for the woman apparently posed to become France's next first lady.
First lanky Bruni writhed about in a leather seat in a TV ad for carmaker Lancia, to the joy of millions of viewers in France, Germany and Italy. Then she gave a surprise interview to the daily Libération about Sarkozy's upcoming state visit to India and addressed rumors of their marriage. "We're not yet married," she said, "but it is part of our plans."
And now France's first lady-to-be is appearing, au natural, inside the pages of the February issue of DT. She appears lounging on black leather floor cushions wearing black knee-high boots, with a diamond ring displayed prominently in her left hand. The look: seductive.
The Spanish daily El Pais has already published the erotic black and white photos, but the French media has so far held back. TV and radio, too, have refused to run with the scoop. Even the day after the photo's publication in Spain, there has been no reaction in the major French dailies -- not a word or a pixel of Carla's nude spread (well, she does use her arms and legs to cover up the unmentionables). The papers' online sites have even held back.
This may be partially explained by the fact that the owners of France's largest media groups also belong to Sarkozy's coterie of close friends. The image is, however, making the rounds on French blogs, which are filled with malicious comments.
Were the photos taken after Carla Bruni got to know the French president a little better? Or were they taken in Élysée Palace, where Bruni has been living since December? "We don't want to comment on the photo production," DT magazine spokesperson Maria Sanchez told SPIEGEL ONLINE. She did add, however, that the photos had been taken just before Bruni and Sarkozy made their romance official in mid-December. Says Sanchez: "It's Carla Bruni's last photo shoot."
'Nude, with Boots and a Ring on Her Finger -- What Do You Think?'
The TV show "7sur7," not generally known for its boldness, became the first serious French media to post the picture on the Web. Meanwhile, women's magazine Femme Actuelle still hasn't posted the spread, but it appears to be at the starting gate. "Carla Bruni is messing with our heads," the paper writes. "France's future first lady poses naked, wearing only boots and a ring on her finger. What do you think about that?" the paper asks its readers.
For his part, Sarkozy no longer appears to want to play the role of the nation's Lothario, instead preferring to be seen as a serious statesman again. In recent days, there have been no public displays of affection in front of the paparazzi -- just serious political statements and public appearances befitting of a statesman.
Disastrous results in political popularity polls have forced Sarkozy to radically change his public image. His luxury romantic getaways with Carla Bruni to the Egyptian pyramids and exotic Jordan have deeply damaged Sarkozy's reputation among French voters. Confidence in the politician and his policies has fallen to 49 percent, and 63 percent disapprove of his very public show of his private life.
An even more bitter pill for Sarkozy to swallow, perhaps, is the fact that France's prime minister, Francois Fillon, dubbed "Mister Nobody" for his bland political style, has surpassed him in popularity polls.
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