France's Hollande names European expert his chief of staff

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 09, 2014 10:44 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande appointed a close friend and former European affairs minister to the strategic post of his chief of staff on Wednesday and reshuffled his private office to tighten the country's relations with Brussels.

The nomination of Jean-Pierre Jouyet as secretary-general of the presidency was also designed to ensure better coordination with the government of new Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Hollande told the daily Le Monde.

In a keynote speech to parliament on Tuesday, Valls said he would honour France's pledges of budget discipline, but Hollande and other ministers have hinted Paris will seek another delay in promised deficit reductions to avoid stifling economic growth.

Jouyet, 60, director-general of the state-owned bank Caisse des Depots (CDC), is a well-connected political operator with deep European experience. The Catholic social democrat was a senior aide to former European Commission President Jacques Delors and former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

But his acceptance of a role in conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy's government in 2007 as minister for European affairs is still considered a betrayal by some on the Left.

That prompted Hollande to exclude Jouyet, his class-mate at France's Ecole Nationale d'Administration civil service college, from his initial line-up in 2012. But a source close to the president said: "They are very old friends and it's not just European affairs that spurred his appointment.

"Jean-Pierre Jouyet has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, including on financial matters, which are also important now," the source said. Hollande has promised to ease the tax burden on companies in return for more job creation.

The president also reorganised the government office in charge of coordinating European policy among ministries, making the General Secretariat for European Affairs (SGAE) report directly to himself instead of to the prime minister.

At its head, he appointed his European adviser, Philippe Leglise-Costa, in a move to mirror a similar structure in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office.

Leglise-Costa is to travel to Brussels on Thursday to brief European Commision President Jose Manuel Barroso's staff on France's deficit cutting plans and the implementation of the "responsibility pact", a presidential source said.

Brussels has already granted France two additional years until 2015 to bring its deficit down from 4.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product last year to an EU target of 3 percent.

Valls was appointed in a reshuffle after Hollande's Socialists were routed in local elections where both mainstream conservatives and the far-right National Front made big gains.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage and Emmanuel Jarry, Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Paul Taylor)