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French PM François Fillon pulls away from Sarkozy

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2010-09-26

Ahead of an expected cabinet reshuffle in France that could see him lose his post, French Prime Minister François Fillon has sought to distance himself from Nicolas Sarkozy in a rare television interview.

After over three years standing faithfully by the side of Nicolas Sarkozy, French Prime Minister François Fillon appeared to distance himself from the French president in a rare television interview broadcast on Sunday.

It comes ahead of an expected cabinet reshuffle next week, which, it is rumoured, could see the PM lose his job.
 
A calm and composed Fillon told France 2 television that his ties with the controversial president could best be described as an “alliance.”  
 
“I agreed, I chose to support and ally myself with him because I thought he was the best candidate to win the presidential election,” he said. Looking back on the relationship, he added, “I don’t think I was wrong.”
 
Fillon is in the relatively unusual position of enjoying higher approval ratings than the president. Traditionally in French politics it is the prime minister who manages the government’s day-to-day politics - often unpopular with the public - that the president strives to rise above.
 
Keeping Sarkozy at arm's length
 
Now Fillon appears to be striking a delicate balance where he can simultaneously keep the president at arm's length yet not abandon him altogether. "Nicolas Sarkozy has never been my mentor. I made a [political] alliance with him and I chose to help him become president,” a choice, he adds, that has made him happy throughout his tenure in office. 
 
Chosen by Sarkozy to be his prime minister back in 2007, at the beginning of Sarkozy's five-year term, Fillon is now vulnerable to falling victim to Sarkozy's reshuffle.
 
The public approves
 
However political observers believe this could be a risky move for Sarkozy in light of the gulf between the two men’s approval ratings.  According to the latest polls from the IFOP Institute, less than a third of the French public supports President Sarkozy (32 percent), while a robust 49 percent of the population approves of the prime minister’s performance. 
 
“If Fillon remains in office, he really benefits because it will push him to a new level of popularity that is rare for a prime minister,” a source close to Fillon told the French newspaper Le Monde.   

In the interview with France 2, Fillon offered few details about his future when he eventually leaves office but did drop in a few somewhat opaque clues about his ambitions.
 
“I’ve been in politics for thirty years.  I have no plans to start over at the bottom again, to go back to being a MP,” he said.
 
With his political future in limbo, speculation is now bubbling that Fillion may consider becoming the Speaker of the National Assembly, running for Paris mayor in 2014 or may even have his eye on a presidential bid in 2017.  

 

Date created : 2010-09-26

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