PARIS (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on Tuesday for stronger management of France's dispute-ridden finance ministry, adding fuel to growing speculation of an imminent reshuffle by President Francois Hollande.
Fabius' comments come after a string of clashes between center-left Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and his left-wing Industry Ministry Arnaud Montebourg over everything from public finances to the state's role in deciding private sector investments.
A former premier and finance minister himself, Fabius is the most senior cabinet member so far to call into question publicly Moscovici's leadership of the giant ministry, known as "Bercy" after the district in eastern Paris where it is located.
"I ran Bercy in the past and it's true that it needs a boss," Fabius told RTL radio.
"At the moment you have several bosses. Whatever the quality of the men and women and their level of agreement, I think that stronger coordination would be more useful."
Asked whether he expected changes at the finance ministry, he replied: "If there is a reshuffle... then this question will be dealt with."
The latest row between Moscovici and Montebourg erupted this month when Moscovici disowned Montebourg's effective blocking of a plan by U.S. Internet giant Yahoo! to buy a 75 percent stake in the French video website Dailymotion.
The website is owned by France Telecom in which the French state has a minority stake. Yahoo! backed off from the deal after Montebourg's intervention.
On Tuesday evening, Moscovici defended his ministry as "a ministry of quality with exceptional civil servants," and suggested it was healthy for a government to include multiple viewpoints.
"What counts is that we're going in the same direction," Moscovici told RFI radio. "Let's not allow ourselves to be thrown off our path by commentary."
Fabius was finance minister between 2000 and 2002. While Moscovici is an ardent supporter of EU integration, Fabius is more reserved on Europe and voted against the doomed European Union constitution in 2005.
In remarks which prompted speculation that he was seeking another role in government, it was Fabius who in February first cast doubt on whether France would meet its target of reducing the public deficit to three percent of output this year.
The government has since officially pushed back the target by one year and is expected to be given two more years by the European Commission to achieve the objective.
Hollande, whose popularity ratings a year into office have fallen faster than any elected president due largely to his failure to tackle unemployment, said earlier this month he would weed out underperforming ministers "at some point".
He is due to give an extended news conference on Thursday at which will attempt to reassert his leadership on policy and may give more hints on the timing and shape of any reshuffle.
(Reporting by Mark John and John Irish; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Paul Taylor, Ron Askew)