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Sarkozy picks eight new ministers for revamped cabinet

Video by Kate WILLIAMS , Pauline GODART

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-06-25

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on his extensively reshuffled cabinet to pursue "bold reforms" as it met Wednesday for the first time. Among the new appointments are Michèle Alliot-Marie, Brice Hortefeux and Frédéric Mitterrand.

Just minutes after the announcement of a major cabinet reshuffle, the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party sent a message of congratulations: “This new team will lead to indispensable change for our country, as was desired by the president of the republic and as was expected by the French.”

But some experts are sceptical. Sylvain Bourmeau, a journalist for Mediapart, told FRANCE 24 that the new cabinet "is not a big change at all" and added that the UMP's strategy "is to realign the government toward the right”.

Bourmeau deemed "unfortunate" the lateral move of Rama Yade, from minister of human rights (a post that was eliminated) to minister of sport.  He said the decision may have been based on race politics, since sport is considered the domain of "visible minorities”.

Guy Milliere, president of the Turgot Institute in Paris, a liberal think tank, was similarly underwhelmed by some of the changes. He said the current regime is "just trying to hold things together" until the next presidential election.

After the suspense preceding the nominations, the new team was immediately put to work on Wednesday at the convening of their first Council of Ministers meeting at the Élysée presidential palace.

The cabinet’s goals will be a continuation of those of the previous administration. At least, that is what the opposition is assuming. They are triumphant that the ruling party did not manage to poach many members of rival parties, which posed a problem for them in the past.

Only a few socialists were taken into the fold in the most significant cabinet reshuffle since the beginning of the Sarkozy presidency.

A 'closed club'

Michel Mercier, treasurer of the centrist MoDem party led by former presidential candidate François Bayrou, joins the government in the capacity of minister of regional development.

This close ally of “Third Man” Bayrou (his rank in the last presidential elections) is the only defector in the new government. Frédéric Lefebvre, a spokesman for the UMP party, said Wednesday in an interview with France 2 that this move was “a new sign of openness”.  Bayrou has not yet commented on Mercier’s nomination.

The Socialist Party was quick to react. “The composition of this new government is marked by several bad signs of being a closed club,” it said in a statement. Among other things, they are dismayed by “the elimination” of the human rights post and the transfer of the education post to the social affairs secretary, Xavier Darcos. According to the Socialists, Darcos “pursues the biggest social plan in the nation by eliminating thousands of jobs”. The Socialist Party fears what it called a “new turn of the screw”.

Jean-Louis Bianco of the Socialist Party wrote in his blog on Wednesday that a cabinet reshuffle “is useless, except that it distracts the media for 24 hours”.

Along the same lines, the left-leaning daily Libération commented ironically on Frédéric Mitterrand’s appointment to the culture post. “The quiet farce,” the headline read, a reference to the victorious presidential campaign of his uncle, socialist François Mitterrand, who was known as “The quiet force”. The paper’s Laurent Joffrin wrote in an editorial that this “same-name nomination” was “a kind of political closure.”

A surprise twist

Mitterrand was not the only surprise twist. According to Gérard Aschieri, secretary-general of the teachers’ union, new Minister of Education Luc Chatel is “not someone particularly known for his interest in education”.

New Labour Minister Darcos recalls that Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary-general of the Workers’ Force, told him to “hang in there”. Apt advice, given that Darcos will be entrusted with such thorny matters as possibly raising the retirement age and working on Sundays.

The magistrates, for one, are satisfied

The  syndicated union of magistrates is one of the few groups to express satisfaction with the new cabinet. They are pleased with the departure of Rachida Dati, who, in their view, left “a landscape of ruin that has to be completely reconstructed” upon leaving the top post at the Justice Ministry.

Furthermore, they lauded the appointment of Michèle Alliot-Marie to Dati’s old post, saying that she was “someone who knew the law” and who is “predisposed to be cooperative”.

Date created : 2009-06-24