PARIS – French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday his relationship with model-turned-singer Carla Bruni is "serious," and he suggested that wedding plans are in the works.
"There is a strong chance that you will learn about it after it's already done," he said at a wide-ranging news conference.
The Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported this weekend that a wedding is expected for early February, prompting Sarkozy to joke: "It isn't the (newspaper) that will set the date."
Sarkozy's romance with Bruni reportedly started shortly after the French leader and his second wife, Cecilia Sarkozy, divorced three months ago.
Sarkozy, 52, and Bruni, a 40-year-old Italian-born French model with a successful folk music career, have since been photographed together in recent weeks in locations from Disneyland Paris to the pyramids in Egypt, often entwined arm-in-arm, looking happy.
"You've understood: it is serious," Sarkozy said when asked about their relationship. He added that he was speaking for Bruni as well.
The conservative president has been accused of publicizing his relationship with Bruni to try to distract from a dramatic recent slide in polls. Some analysts also say that Sarkozy's flaunting of his private life is a turnoff for many voters, especially more traditional ones.
Sarkozy said he wanted to break with a long tradition of French leaders keeping their love lives secret, with the media's tacit accord. He alluded to late former French President Francois Mitterrand, who kept the existence of a mistress and illegitimate daughter a secret for most of his 1981-95 presidency.
Sarkozy pointed out that journalists felt comfortable asking him questions they had never dared to ask his predecessors.
"I have been a part of a break with a deplorable tradition in our country: hypocrisy and lies," Sarkozy said.
Without mentioning Mitterrand's name, Sarkozy mentioned another president who took a trip to Egypt "in a presidential plane" with a second family.
"Everyone knew about it and nobody talked about it," Sarkozy said. "Carla and I have decided not to lie."
But he added: "I don't allow myself to judge (my predecessors), everyone must live as they see fit."
Sarkozy's approval rating stands around 48 percent — a drop of seven points in a month, and a sharp departure from his highest level, 65 percent, in July, according to a recent poll from the CSA agency. The poll surveyed 1,010 people age 18 and up on the phone on Jan. 2-3. No margin of error was given.
"I have a certain experience of political life; I don't imagine I will spend five years with a 70 percent popularity rating," Sarkozy said. "That is not the goal. The goal is to get things done."
Sarkozy denied that he was using the ups and downs of his love life to draw attention from France's problems. He said he was astonished by some news reports that suggested his October divorce was timed to overshadow coverage of a nationwide strike that paralyzed the country.
"I told myself that people who wrote such articles must never have been divorced," Sarkozy said, adding that he wasn't angry at them. "I was simply ashamed for them, for being so far removed from life's realities."
Sarkozy's wide-ranging news conference Tuesday touched on questions from the economy to the environment to ways to promote diversity. Sarkozy gave a one-hour speech, then opened the floor to questions. The second question was about his relationship to Bruni — an issue that has had France buzzing for weeks.
"What is extraordinary is that you were kind enough to wait until the second question," he told the reporters, drawing laughs.