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Sarkozy set to announce presidential reelection candidacy early

Reuters/Lionel Bonaventure

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on the verge of announcing his candidacy in April's presidential election. On Friday his UMP party announced a first support meeting for Sarkozy later this month, on 19 February, in the southern city of Marseille.

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There was no confirmation of whether or not Sarkozy himself would actually be the rally. Rumours, stoked by his advisers, are circulating that he is going to jump the gun on his initial plan to announce his candidacy in mid-March and do so some time next week.

A further indicator came from UMP general secretary Jean-François Copé, who has been accused of spamming unsuspecting French ctizens with his regular emails on the good wroks of the president and his party.

A Copé email on Friday annouonced the opening of a new Facebook page devoted to Sarkozy, known as Le Timeline. That name might just be hint of the president's intentions.

In the meantime the president has been acting as if he is already on the campaign trail and one tactic has emerged: praise Germany as much as possible.

Sarkozy has had nothing but good things to say about France’s neighbour: its competitiveness, its low unemployment.

During his nationally-televised interview two weeks ago, Sarkozy kept returning to Germany as a model for France. This week there was a Franco-German summit here in Paris on Monday, with an extended joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a joint TV interview and more mutual praise.

At a dinner held by France’s Jewish lobby group, the Crif, Sarkozy even went so far as to evoke the Franco-German relationship as a model for Israel and the Palestinians.

Merkel said she would be rooting for Sarkozy; her party is, after all, is in the same political vein as the UMP.

For Sarkozy, linking himself to Europe's strongest economy is not such a bad idea. But it could also backfire.

One of the things that got him elected in the first place was wooing hard right voters - voters who are now being heavily courted by Marine Le Pen and the Front National.

By tying his campaign to Germany, Sarkozy provides fodder for the euro-sceptics and those concerned about France's sovereignty.

He has already been criticised from the right and the left for concessions he made on budgetary control in the EU. This could easily come up again as the campaign progresses in the coming weeks.

In any case, Sarkozy is banking on this strategy to help him in the polls.

Though he and Merkel have not always been this close. There has been a push and pull of influence between the two ever since Sarkozy was first elected.

At the beginning of his term, France held the rotating presidency of the EU, in the second half of 2008. He took that role very seriously, determined to be the European president and an international statesman.

This meant he butted heads with Merkel, as when he launched the Mediterranean Union. Initially Germany was not part of it and that caused tension.

But in the last year, there has been a 180-degree shift in the relationship. Sarkozy now is playing second fiddle to Merkel. Accordingly, there is a big message change for him.

Those backing Sarkozy say this is a new era, which means new perspectives.

We'll have to see how voters react.

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