France's Fabius leaves office, wider reshuffle due

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 10, 2016 5:49 AM

By Ingrid Melander and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced on Wednesday he was leaving the government ahead of a wider reshuffle that President Francois Hollande hopes can help bolster his chances for the 2017 presidential elections.

The reshuffle, which has been in the works for months, is an opportunity for Hollande to tackle low approval ratings and growing discontent in his party.

Fabius, 69, who played a prominent role in sealing an international deal with Iran limiting its nuclear program and helped broker a global climate change deal, told reporters Wednesday's cabinet meeting would be his last before he took up a new post as head of the constitutional court.

A full reshuffle would be announced later this week.

"I will be leaving office," Fabius said.

This is a sensitive time for Hollande, whose plan to strip French citizenship from people convicted of terrorism is far from certain to be adopted despite passing a first hurdle in parliament on Tuesday.

Endless debates and government hesitation on the passport issue have divided his party, angered allies and hurt his already faltering chances of winning re-election next year.

PRIME MINISTER STAYS?

Speculation is rife in France over who could join his re-jigged government in coming days, with Hollande's former partner, Environment Minister Segolene Royal, or his previous prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, tipped as possible replacements for Fabius.

A lot of attention will also be focused on whether former investment banker Emmanuel Macron, who has been the face of reforms for France's European partners but has irritated many of his government colleagues, will get a bigger portfolio.

Manuel Valls is set to stay on as prime minister. Hollande is expected to largely stick to his pro-business economic policy even if there could be some changes if rebel Socialists or Green lawmakers were to join his cabinet in a bid to build a wider left-wing alliance to gear up for the presidential election.

But analysts said a reshuffle was unlikely to do much to help Hollande's popularity, which has been eroded by a debate on stripping dual nationals of their French passports in case of terrorism convictions - one of the key measures he announced after 130 people were killed by Islamist militants in Paris on November 13.

A formal vote on the bill on Wednesday in the lower house of parliament will give an indication of whether the government is likely to get three fifths of votes from both houses of parliament it will require in the coming weeks to push the measure through.

Fabius, France's youngest prime minister in the mid-1980s, had been widely expected to change jobs since the end of last year. He said he would enter his new role in early March.

He is due to stay on as chair of U.N. climate talks until late 2016, monitoring implementation of the agreement to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energies.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alister Doyle and Ralph Boulton)