French President Nicolas Sarkozy told lawmakers from his conservative party Wednesday that he feels good about his prospects if he decides to seek re-election next year, two attendees of the meeting said.
The field of potential challengers to Sarkozy in the 2012 race is growing. Sarkozy, who has not announced whether he will run but is widely expected to do so, hosted lawmakers from his governing UMP party, which has recently seen two high-level defections.
Despite persistently low poll numbers over recent months, Sarkozy told them: "I feel good about the situation" before the 2012 vote, according to an attendee of the closed-door meeting, who did not want to be identified by name because the talks were private.
Meanwhile, another attendee quoted Sarkozy as saying he wouldn't announce his candidacy before late autumn, and that he wasn't surprised that the French public was "finger-pointing" at the powers-that-be at a time of economic slump. She said she was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
That attendee, who said she took notes, added that Sarkozy was optimistic about his re-election chances because of "the reforms (that the government has) carried out, and the first signs of an end to the crisis."
Sarkozy's comments came the same day that Nicolas Hulot, a popular TV personality and environmental campaigner, said he will run for the presidency next year.
Hulot, 55, is well-known and widely admired, but has no political experience and very little chance of reaching the presidency. He said France needs "a new model of development" that better respects the environment.
Hulot toyed with the idea of running in 2007, when global warming was on everyone's lips as a major public concern. He earned fame as the host of a popular nature show called "Ushuaia."
Former Socialist Party chief Francois Hollande said last week he wants to be president. Other Socialists are likely to seek the party's endorsement, and other environmental figures are also expected to seek the job.
The leader of the far right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, is also planning to run. Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked many in Europe by making it into the runoff of France's 2002 presidential election on his anti-immigrant, anti-EU platform.
Marine Le Pen said Wednesday that while zero immigration is the party's objective, if it's not realistic, her party would limit the number of legal migrants to 10,000 each year, instead of 200,000 currently, "because some migrants can be useful. ... To keep accepting 200,000 people each year is madness."
She called for Europe to reopen border posts to keep out illegal migrants fleeing recent unrest in North Africa, and reiterated her party's call to withdraw France from NATO.
She said she would work towards equal cooperation with the U.S. "The relations between France and the U.S. are old and can be fruitful, should one be not considered as the other's inferior."
Sarkozy's critics say he is trying to counteract Le Pen's rising popularity by reaching out to extreme right voters with tough immigration policies and a controversial debate on Islam's role in France.
The push has alienated more moderate members of his party. In a big recent blow for Sarkozy, two popular figures said last week they were quitting the UMP party: former Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and Rama Yade, a two-time former minister of sports and of human rights.
According to the female attendee of Wednesday's UMP meeting, Sarkozy said: "Don't expect me to say anything bad about Jean-Louis Borloo because I think only good things ... and that would be just what my adversaries want."
Jamey Keaten and Camille Rustici contributed to this report.