President François Hollande on Thursday named Jean-Marc Ayrault (pictured) as France’s new foreign minister, amid a government reshuffle that saw a handful of environmental leaders return to his cabinet.
Ayrault, 66, will replace veteran foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who bowed out of politics on Wednesday after being named to head France's Constitutional Council, which ensures that laws comply with the constitution.
Close to Hollande, Ayrault served as his first prime minister between 2012 and 2014 before being replaced by Manuel Valls.
Ayrault is seen as a seasoned and cool-headed leader, but his lack of diplomatic experience will likely be questioned as he begins to juggle the volatile Syria, Libya and Iran dossiers.
A fluent German speaker, Ayrault's language and cultural skills may nevertheless be an asset in working alongside Berlin on the most pressing issues facing the European Union, such as the migration crisis and a looming "Brexit"- the UK’s possible withdrawal from the EU.
He was chosen over environment minister Ségolène Royal, the mother of Hollande's four children, who was widely touted as an eager candidate for the high-profile post.
Hollande named the leader of the French Green Party (EELV), Emmanuelle Cosse, as housing minister, in what many said was a bid to widen his political base ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
Two dissident EELV lawmakers, Barbara Pompili and Jean-Vincent Placé, also joined the government as secretaries of state.
The Green Party refused to take part in the government after Valls – blamed for pulling the government toward the political right – succeeded Ayrault as prime minister in 2014.
EELV members have been divided ever since over whether they should accept government appointments, worried about offering tacit support to the right-wing turn under Valls.
In another blow to Hollande's hopes to unite the left ahead of the 2017 poll, the leader of Front de Gauche (the radical left party), Jean-Luc Melenchon—who won 11 percent of the vote in 2012—announced Wednesday he would run for president.
The government shakeup also saw Fleur Pellerin leave France’s prestigious culture ministry, and Sylvia Pinel, a member of Hollande’s original cabinet, step down as housing minister.
Pinel was replaced by the EELV’s Cosse, while Pellerin relinquished her post to Audrey Azoulay, President Hollande’s former cultural advisor.
Most of the key ministry positions remained unchanged. Manuel Valls stays on as prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve as interior minister, Michel Sapin as finance minister and Jean-Yves Le Drian as defence minister.
In less important, but still prominent positions, Marisol Touraine remains at the head of the health and social services ministry, Ségolène Royal at the environment ministry and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem at the education ministry.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2016-02-11