France's teetotal President appears to have fallen off the wagon during a bonding session with Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit.

A video showing the usually precise Nicolas Sarkozy in unsteady form at a press conference that came after his meeting with the Russian head of state.

Apparently trying to suppress a laugh, Mr Sarkozy excused himself for arriving late and seemed at a loss to know what to tell the assembled journalists.

"Would you prefer me to answer questions?" he said with a broad smile as he swayed behind the lectern at the summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. "Well then, are there any questions?"

The newly elected Mr Sarkozy, attending his first G8 summit, shrugged and sighed as he fitted an earpiece into his left ear.

The video is the talk of Paris after it was enjoyed by thousands of people on the internet (watch it here). The images also appeared on Belgian television, although TV companies in France decided against broadcasting it.


"He [Sarkozy] had just come out of a meeting with President Putin and obviously he had not only drunk water," Eric Boever, a Belgian television journalist, told viewers.

French media outlets rushed to the defence of Mr Sarkozy, and Mr Boever later apologised for suggesting that the French President was drunk. "I obviously did not want to offend French national sensitivities, especially since I am also French through my mother," Mr Boever said.

Unlike Jacques Chirac, his beer-drinking predecessor, Mr Sarkozy prefers mineral water and orange juice. The 52-year-old is a fitness freak and a keen jogger whose only known gastronomic vice is chocolate cake.

However, French internet forums were inundated with comments from users who had seen the video and were convinced that Mr Sarkozy had drunk un petit coupwith Mr Putin.

Some were furious with him for denting the Gallic image at his first G8 summit.

"When you take part in a meeting where there are heads of state and media from across the world, you try not to bring shame on your country," said one.

"If I arrived drunk at work, half my colleagues would say I was pathetic and my boss would fire me straight away," said another.

"He wasn't driving but he was taking part in decisions which were crucial for the planet. He could have been a little more sober."

A third added that the President had been discourteous to heads of state and government during the official G8 photograph, when he was seen talking on his mobile telephone as they gathered around him.

But many people suggested that Mr Sarkozy had done nothing to dent his popularity and may even have bolstered it through an all-too-human weakness that brought him closer to the wine-drinking nation he represents.

"Who among you has never had one too many?" said a supporter. "Being caught in a state of drunkenness is not so dramatic," said a second.

Yet another wrote: "A drunken Sarko is still 100 per cent more convincing and human" than Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate whom he defeated in last month's presidential election.

Mr Sarkozy told reporters after the summit that his first head-to-head meeting with Mr Putin had enabled the two men to establish firm bonds. They had got on so well that they had exchanged mobile telephone numbers, he said.