French government flags possible reshuffle in February

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 31, 2016 10:31 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande's last ministerial reshuffle before a bid next year for re-election could come in February, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll indicated on Sunday.

On Feb. 10, the lower house of the French parliament is due to vote on a controversial constitutional reform bill.

A reshuffle will not happen before that, but a likely trigger for one comes soon after. The head of the Constitutional Court overseeing government legislation is due to retire in March, and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is seen as the favorite to be named in February as his replacement.

    "If there is a reshuffle, it will be after the 10th, around that time," said Le Foll, who is also agriculture minister, in an interview with Europe 1 radio and news channel iTele.

A cabinet shake-up over the coming weeks has been widely predicted by French political commentators. Fabius' likely departure is one trigger. Another could be Hollande seeking to re-energise his unpopular government ahead of the election.

    Hollande was already forced to make a cabinet change last week when Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, a champion of the left, quit over the constitutional reform bill.

The change would allow some people convicted of terrorism to be stripped of their French citizenship - part of France’s response to November’s attacks in Paris.

    Taubira has been replaced by Jean-Jacques Urvoas, regarded as more supportive of Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Hollande. Le Foll declined to comment on the possible scope of a further reshuffle.

    The debate over stripping of citizenship, with arguments often centered on whether this should apply solely to dual-nationality citizens, has exacerbated tensions with Hollande's left-wing allies.

    Left-wingers have also been calling for Hollande to take part in a primary that would select a candidate to represent his Socialist Party and the broader French left to stand in 2017.

A survey by pollster Ifop, published in Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, showed 65 percent of French people supported the idea of a broad left-wing primary.

    But Le Foll played down the suggestion of Hollande taking part in a primary ahead of next year's presidential election, given his duties as president.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Andrew Callus)