New cabinet unveiled as Sarkozy eyes 2012 poll
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A new French cabinet was appointed under Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Sunday. The reshuffle is being viewed as President Nicolas Sarkozy's last bid to reinvigorate his struggling administration ahead of the presidential election.
A new French cabinet was unveiled Sunday; hours after French President Nicolas Sarkozy reappointed Francois Fillon as prime minister in a planned cabinet reshuffle.
Sarkozy also asked Fillon to form a new cabinet and the pair held a series of meetings during the day to thrash out who was in and who was out in the new administration. The new cabinet is now packed with popular right wingers, while the majority of leftist ministers have not survived.
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and Budget Minister Francois Baroin managed to hang on to their posts. But Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner, a high-profile former Socialist, did not make the cut and lost his position to Michele Alliot-Marie. The new government also saw some old faces in top ministries, with experienced right-wing former Prime Minister Alain Juppe replacing Herve Morin as defence minister.
Sarkozy also took the opportunity to ditch the unpopular and scandal-plagued now ex-Labour Minister Eric Woerth, replacing him with Xavier Bertrand. Woerth, who was spearheading the controversial pension reforms, was accused of taking illegal cash to help fund Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential election bid.
The reshuffle is being viewed as Sarkozy's last opportunity to reinvigorate his struggling administration ahead of the presidential election in 2012.
- Finance Minister: Christine Lagarde
- Interior Minister: Brice Hortefeux
- Defence Minister: Alain Juppé
- Foreign Affairs Minister: Michèle Alliot-Marie
- Education Minister: Luc Chatel
- Justice Minister: Michel Mercier
- Labour Minister: Xavier Bertrand
- Agriculture Minister: Bruno Le Maire
- Culture Minister: Frédéric Mitterrand
In a statement shortly after being renamed to the prime minister's post, Fillon said that the “new phase” would focus on strengthening growth to create jobs, promoting solidarity and ensuring the security of France.
The government overhaul was mooted back in March - after Sarkozy’s ruling UMP suffered a humiliating drubbing in regional elections - as a way of telling voters that he understood their concerns.
It appears that Sarkozy is looking to solidify support within the grassroots of the UMP ahead of the crunch 2012 polls. The president's first move was to reinstate Prime Minister Francois Fillon, one of the few UMP leaders to enjoy genuine popular support among French conservative voters.
Is Sarkozy riding on Fillon’s coat tails?
Fillon's position was subject to speculation in the French media, but his strong support amongst lawmakers may have saved him. The prime minister is regularly greeted by standing ovations when he speaks before the National Assembly, which is something that Sarkozy can only aspire to.
Fillon's image is one of a disciplined, measured politician and a safe pair of hands. He is relatively popular with the French public at large, and enjoys higher approval ratings than Sarkozy himself which could make him an asset going into the 2012 presidential election.
The prime minister also benefits from solid support within Sarkozy’s UMP party itself.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy’s own poll ratings have plummeted in recent months and many observers view the reshuffle as the president’s last chance to seize control of the agenda before the 2012 vote.
Sarkozy’s government has taken a sharp swerve to the right in recent months on law and order and immigration issues, sparking international outrage with the expulsions of Roma (gypsies) back to their homelands in Eastern Europe.
Voters have also baulked at Sarkozy’s somewhat domineering manner, and the media have dubbed him the ‘bling-bling’ president for his luxury lifestyle.
Furthermore, many were angered by the austerity measures introduced by the government in response to the global economic crisis. The raising of the state retirement age from 60 to 62 resulted in mass protests and strikes across France.
The success of this new cabinet will be tested when the country heads to the polls in 2012.
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