France's new prime minister names Cabinet

AP News
Posted: May 16, 2012 3:20 PM
France's new prime minister names Cabinet

Jean-Marc Ayrault, a moderate Socialist with an affinity for Germany, took office as France's prime minister on Wednesday and got to work by naming his Cabinet _ a lineup that includes allies and veterans of previous governments.

Socialist President Francois Hollande approved the appointments, in line with tradition, which give women half of the 34 posts _ as he had promised during the campaign.

The top appointments include former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius as foreign minister. Fabius replaces Alain Juppe and will have the job of carrying out Hollande's pledge to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Hollande's campaign director and one-time European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici was named finance minister, replacing Francois Baroin in the crucial post as Europe fights its debt crisis. Moscovici will be tasked with carrying out Hollande's vow to find ways to encourage growth in a continent where many countries are in recession.

A newcomer to national politics, Jean-Yves Le Drian, will head the Defense Ministry, replacing Gerard Longuet. Le Drian, a friend of Hollande's for 30 years, has since 2004 been president of France's western Brittany region, where Hollande grew up.

Christiane Taubira from French Guiana, was named justice minister _ making her the highest ranking woman in the new Cabinet. A lawmaker since 1993, she authored a French law in 2001 making slavery a crime against humanity. In 2002, she was France's first black candidate for the presidency.

Other women who received Cabinet posts include Marisol Touraine, minister for health and social affairs; Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, who's the leader of the ecology party; and several women who played important roles in the presidential campaign, such as Aurelie Filipetti, named culture minister, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in charge of women's rights, a new Cabinet post, and government spokesperson.

Centrist Manuel Valls, Hollande's campaign communications director and Socialist deputy since 2002, was named interior minister.

However, Segolene Royale, the mother of Hollande's four children, and Socialist presidential candidate in 2007, was overlooked for a top job. Royale has said she is now eyeing the job of speaker of the house after June's legislative elections.

Ayrault, 62, was welcomed to the prime minister's office, an 18th century mansion on Paris' Left Bank, on Wednesday by his predecessor, Francois Fillon. The two men chatted for half an hour before emerging. Fillon, a conservative and staunch ally of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was driven away to applause by onlookers.

Ayrault then got to work.

The Cabinet list includes Socialists who have been ministers in previous decades: a key advantage for Hollande, who has been criticized for arriving at the top job with no past ministerial experience.

Ayrault has led the country's Socialists in the lower house of Parliament for more than a decade, but his knowledge of Germany and ability to speak German have attracted the most attention.

"The essential thing ... is that we get to work very quickly in the service of the French people," Ayrault told reporters.

All eyes are trained on how Hollande, who was sworn in Tuesday, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will get along, since that relationship is at the core of how Europe tackles its debt crisis. Sarkozy and Merkel were said to be so close they were sometimes referred to as one person, Merkozy. Franco-German proposals usually carry the day in Brussels as European leaders try to contain a debt crisis that has dragged several countries into recession and ensure that it never happens again.

After being sworn in, Hollande flew to Berlin to meet Merkel. The German chancellor said their differences had been overstated, and they committed Tuesday to work together.

But observers wonder how they'll reconcile the French leader's insistence that growth measures be added to a European treaty aimed at limiting overspending, and the German leader's demand for budget discipline. The conservative Merkel has balked at reopening negotiations of the fiscal compact that brought at least an uneasy calm to markets when it was signed earlier this year. Hollande says imposing drastic cuts on countries that aren't growing is counterproductive and will only further impair their ability to pay off debts.

Ayrault, a former German teacher, will be central to that discussion.

He has said that the Paris-Berlin partnership must be carefully tended. "The Franco-German relationship cannot function without a certain intimacy," he wrote on his blog. "It needs constancy and stability."

He and Hollande are said to be very close, and long sat next to each other in France's National Assembly chamber.

Ayrault has served as a deputy in that lower house since 1986. He is also mayor of Nantes, a city on the Atlantic coast.

The first Cabinet meeting of the new government will be held on Thursday.

Martine Aubry, architect of the 35-hour work week who headed the Socialist Party, was not appointed to the Cabinet. Reports have said the prime minister's portfolio is the only one she would have accepted.