FRANCE - POLITICS

Revamped UMP party ready for European elections

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party saw important changes Saturday, including a new party leader in Xavier Bertrand and appointments to the party's list for the European parliamentary elections.

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AFP - French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a revamped ruling UMP party Saturday, complete with a new party leader, ahead of European parliamentary elections.

The legislative vote will present the first test for former social affairs minister Xavier Bertrand, the new head of the centre-right party, and a blow for controversial Justice Minister Rachida Dati who will run in the June elections.

Dati, who has fallen out of favour, will have to quit her cabinet post if she wins -- which is not in doubt, since she is the second candidate on the right-wing UMP's list for the Paris region.

Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier is leading the list, but Barnier had previously announced his departure to concentrate on European issues.

"The life of a government is made up of departures and returns and I have left under less amicable conditions than those reserved to you," Sarkozy, a former interior and finance minister, told Dati and Barnier at a UMP meeting in Paris.

"This is how France becomes influential in Europe, by sending the best to the European parliament," he added to applause.

Long a Sarkozy ally, Dati shot to prominence in 2007, as one of three politicians of North African descent named to the president's right-wing government and the first to hold a senior cabinet post.

But since then she has run into a string of setbacks and criticism over her management style, reportedly falling out of favour with mentor Sarkozy.

Dati also fuelled controversy by returning to work just five days after giving birth by caesarian section.

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