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by David A. Bell
With less than a week to go before the first round of balloting, Nicolas Sarkozy is still the odds-on favorite to become France's next president. And one big reason is that, despite the gaffe I reported on last week, he is a remarkably impressive campaigner. In his speeches he is clear, persuasive, at ease, inspiring, and quite funny, often in a self-deprecating vein. In one of his recent appearances, he told his listeners that a few years ago he met a lady who told him, "I like you very much." Flattered, he asked her why. "Because I see you on the television, Monsieur Sarkozy, and I tell my son: If someone like him can succeed, then so can you."

Sarkozy is also setting a new standard in Web campaigning. In France, television appearances by the candidates are strictly limited, and so the campaigns have been pushed to develop Web presences that put anything seen in America so far to shame. Even if you don't speak French, it's worth checking out www.sarkozy.fr. It blends together video and text as well as anything I've seen.

One final note from the French campaign. Last week, the candidates were mostly united in condemning the "golden parachute" given to Noël Forgeard, the former joint CEO of EADS, the parent company of Airbus, despite the company's unimpressive performance during his tenure, and rumors of insider trading. They were aghast at the absolutely tremendous amount of money involved, and demanded that most of it be returned. And how much money were they talking about? Slightly under $11 million! That's it! By American CEO standards, that's hardly a golden parachute. More of a tin handkerchief.

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