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François Fillon: the untouchable Prime Minister

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reappointed François Fillon (pictured) as prime minister. The two politicians have had their differences in the past, so why has Sarkozy chosen to stick with his Prime Minister?


French Prime Minister François Fillon President pledged his loyalty to President Nicolas Sarkozy back in 2005 after being thrown out of then-President Jacque Chicac’s government after making no secret of his personal ambition for higher office.

This relationship flourished, and Fillon went on to become one of the key strategists behind Sarkozy's successful election campaign that saw the president sweep to power in 2007.

While President Sarkozy has always been centre stage, Fillon has generally remained behind the scenes and out of the harsh media glare, perhaps explaining his continuing political capital with the French public.

Too popular to fire?

The prime minister’s image in France is that of a reliable, restrained and astute politician; thereby making him the perfect foil to the president's somewhat confrontational style. Sarkozy is more than likely hoping that Fillon’s popularity could be an asset for him going into the 2012 presidential election.

Despite the economic crisis and his right-wing UMP party's losses in regional elections in March 2010, Fillon has remained relatively unscathed underscoring his skill as a canny political operator.

Denis Jeambar, former editor-in-chief of “L’Express” newspaper, told FRANCE 24 that Sarkozy needs to keep his faithful partner in government close, “because if Sarkozy got rid of Fillon, he would immediately become the president’s biggest rival in the 2012 presidential election.”

Midas touch

Fillon has the Midas touch of being able to push through sometimes difficult reforms without losing too much popularity - a trait that helped him maintain solid approval ratings despite the massive protests over the highly unpopular pension reform.

The current prime minister also enjoys solid support amongst French lawmakers; his speeches before the National Assembly are generally greeted by raptuous applause. This popularity in both houses is another key reason for why Sarkozy keeps Fillon in his administration.

Many commentators felt that Fillon was certain to go in this reshuffle, especially after he openly distanced himself from his boss in September by declaring in an interview that Sarkozy was not his “mentor”. However, Fillon found his way back to the top of the list by defending his record: “I believe in continuity when it comes to our political reforms, because I don’t think we gain anything by changing course in the middle of action”, Fillon said. “And because getting France back on its feet is a long-term effort”.

Ambitious beginnings

Fillon began his political career as member of parliament for the Sarthe region in Western France in 1981. He held various posts in centre-right governments, starting in 1993 as a minister for higher education and research. Other ministerial posts have included post and telecommunications, education and labour and social affairs.

While serving as minister for labour under Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's first government in 2002, he helped set out the reforms to France's 35-hour working week and pensions system.

Fillon is married to a Welsh woman and has five children.

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